A new surfboard, a wedding and realising the lifelong dream of a home at the beach. TV star John 'Cocksy' Cocks reveals how a terminal diagnosis has taught him to make the most of the time he has left.

It was on Anzac Day last year that John "Cocksy" Cocks was told he was dying.

As New Zealand paused to remember the sacrifices of a generation that went to war, the TV star was discovering the scale of his own battle.

He had first realised he was sick after coming off the rugby field and seeing blood in his urine.

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A few days later he travelled to Australia.

"I ended up in Customs with massive clots 'downstairs' and was sent straight to hospital. Three days later they took my kidney out - it was covered in a massive tumour."

The 14 months since that day have flown by - a common expression, but one made more daunting when time is so painfully limited.

The diagnosis shook him to the core and forced him to re-evaluate everything in life.
"I can't believe how fast this year has gone," he says. "It was really a big shock but just because you get bad news, it doesn't mean you have to live by it and stop living."

And cramming as much living into the time he has left is something Cocksy is turning into an art form.

He is not afraid of death, determined instead to make every day count.

But he admits he is afraid of what happens to those he leaves behind.

"For the person who is going to die it's not such a drama. My fear will be for my girls and [wife] Dana, the people I love.

"How they will continue their lives without me? They are the ones who will go through the grief."

Cocksy has three daughters - Georgia, 22, Ella, 19, and Sophie, 18. Ella didn't know her dad's illness was terminal until she read about it in the paper.

"I knew it was severe," she said. "I knew it had spread to his spine and lungs - but I didn't know about his time limit.

John Cocks is determined to make the most of his remaining months with his daughters, from left, Georgia, Sophie and Ella Cocks and his wife Dana. Photo / Kevin Emirali
John Cocks is determined to make the most of his remaining months with his daughters, from left, Georgia, Sophie and Ella Cocks and his wife Dana. Photo / Kevin Emirali

"It was one of those moments when I thought 'this happens to people, but it's happening to someone I am close to. I can't be selfish. I have to be stronger than my dad'. I thought I have to toughen up and grow up and be there for my dad."

Cocksy was diagnosed with kidney cancer and given two years to live.

The disease has spread to his lungs and spine, though tests results last week showed there were no new tumours.

That provides a glimmer of light. More time to enjoy family and the things he loves.
But he has still had to make some tough, emotional decisions.

He and new wife Dana have decided against having children.

"It would be a bit cruel to bring a child into the world and disappear yourself," says the 50-year-old.

"If you are going to be a father, you want to be a father for a long time."

One thing he has determined is to be an active advocate for men's health.

"I am just a builder. I am no different to any other Kiwi bloke and maybe that's why people relate to me. People can think, 'I have a brother like him, a father like him'.

"I think everyone knows someone with cancer. They can say, 'Poor him but he's handling it so well'.

"My daughters are proud of their dad for making a stand and encouraging other men to get regular health checks."

He has also refused to lose his sense of humour.

"This type of cancer goes to the lungs - next place is the brain, that's why they head scan you. I said to my mates, 'They won't find anything in there - nothing at all!'.

"I said to Dana, 'if I get a good result, are you sure you want to carry on with this marriage? You can get it annulled'."

John Cocks, aka Cocksy, at the beach house he is building on the Coromandel. Photo / Nick Reed
John Cocks, aka Cocksy, at the beach house he is building on the Coromandel. Photo / Nick Reed

Jokes aside, Cocksy was nervous as he waited for results of his latest scan last week.

"I was told the tumours in my lungs had shrunk. But the ones on my back, which give me the most pain, haven't.

"They are the same, but there are no new tumours - so that's a good result.

"Dana was smiling from ear to ear. I rang my girls who were relieved - waiting is the hardest part. But because I am so fit and positive, they think nothing can defeat Dad."

He's in pretty good shape all things considered, but he's in pain. These past few days his stomach has been upset, a side effect of the cancer medication he takes every fortnight.

"From a pain scale of one to 10 I am seven. It's momentary, like a pinched nerve. It's not comfortable.

"I have days when it's not great but I try not to tell anyone. I keep it to myself."

The star of My House, My Castle, April's Angels, Cocksy's Day Off and Celebrity Treasure Island is cherished for his upbeat personality.

He admits getting upset when he got his diagnosis but bounced back fast.

"I thought, 'this is a bit shit really' and shed a tear when the oncologist told me I was terminal.

"This house means a hell of a lot to him - it's a lifelong dream."

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"Then I thought, 'I have two years left, what will I do with that?'.

"I don't have time to waste. I can't say 'wait' I'll do that in two years time'."

He bought a new surfboard and an old car. He and Dana were married three weeks ago and he's frantically trying to finish building his holiday home at Tairua Beach, on the Coromandel.

The celebrity builder has owned 12 houses, built three and altered two.

"This house is special," he said. "It's my house, my castle, my happy place."

The kite-shaped house has two bedrooms with en suites. Each window has a view of Mt Paku and Shoe Island.

"It's the perfect refuge for a surfer, diver, fisherman. I love the ocean. I am always on the sea, in the sea or under it.

"To beat the cancer you have to have goals - keep driving towards the finish line. I still need to put up a couple of walls, there are no internal linings and the sinks and taps are yet to be installed."

The vertical cedar cladding house is a dramatic contrast to the humble tin shed Cocksy's been living in for the past 12 years.

"The current place is known as the mai mai because it's in the mangroves. It was only meant to be temporary," he says, laughing.

Dana, 44, was proud of her husband's vision for their new home.

"He's a frustrated architect who has changed the designs dozens of times. This house means a hell of a lot to him - it's a lifelong dream. I hope this house will be different to the mai mai, where we have rats scratching in the ceiling.

"I'm looking forward to not having to wear a beanie, socks and jammies to bed."

The pair met at a Variety children's charity's fundraising bash a few years ago.

"Dana is my soulmate," Cocksy says, adding that he is still "bouncing" after their perfect wedding.

"I drove myself to the wedding in my old Holden. The sun finally came out. When I saw Dana, I cried. She looked radiant."

John with Dana at their beach house which he is building in Tairua, Coromandel. Photo / Nick Reed
John with Dana at their beach house which he is building in Tairua, Coromandel. Photo / Nick Reed

The couple wrote their own vows - Cocksy was still tweaking his moments before the wedding.

"My vows included a poem I wrote for her. It was a sentimental one about where we have come from, how we got together. It was very personal.

"But when the celebrant said, 'Cocksy, can you say your vows?', I said, 'A E I O U and sometimes Y'.

"It was very light-hearted and moving at the same time."

Ella gets teary talking about her dad's wedding day.

"We spent two hours on hair and makeup and I cried like a baby when I saw Dana walking up to meet Dad. She looked amazing.

"It was a feeling of seeing someone you love so much, just be so happy. Dad was getting exactly what he needs and deserves in Dana.

"I am so happy with her waltzing into our lives. She is a character, and so much fun - exactly what my dad needs."

Cocksy says he's "running well" on one kidney but for the past six months he has been on a cocktail of medicine.

"I am on this drug that costs me $80,000 a year. One tablet costs $350. I take a pill a day for two weeks - one week off. That's for the rest of my life.

"There are a lot of side effects. You build a lot of poison in your body - there is tenderness in your feet and hands and discolouration in your skin, your hair turns almost white."

"Why be bitter and angry when you don't have any control?"

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But he says he's got more energy than ever and his immune system has been "boosted" since he began drinking controversial health product Te Kiri Gold, touted as a "game changer" for cancer treatment by its creator.

Cocksy wanted to try the water after reading that Sir Colin Meads, his idol, claimed it gave him a better quality of life.

Independent tests commissioned by the Herald on Sunday found it failed to meet government safe drinking guidelines.

Cocksy says he isn't concerned by the high levels of salt and bleach in the water.

"When you have been given two years to live and everyone, your wife, kids and friends, are relying on you still to be around, you give everything a shot. I know it's not going to kill me, because something else is already killing me.

"I've had radiation to knock back the tumours and that makes me seriously sick."

Cocksy says his fears now are not the pain he may endure as "all that can be medicated".

"The pain of my disease is nothing to the pain my daughters and Dana will all go through when I go - that sadness is a huge pain I don't have to deal with."

Despite living with death, Cocksy says he's not allowed bitterness to swallow him.

"People say 'you have every right to be bitter and angry' but I don't have any more right than anybody else. Why be bitter and angry, when you don't have any control?"

"I may have said having cancer was a blessing, which is funny thing to say - but it does make you re-evaluate and reassess things.

"Life is short. I would normally have 30 more years but I just want to live these years as best I can and be the best person I can be."