Exclusive: TV builder Cocksy's terminal cancer battle

By Carolyne Meng-Yee

Much-loved TV builder John 'Cocksy' Cocks has revealed his battle with terminal cancer.

The 50-year-old - who starred on TV shows including My House, My Castle and April's Angels - has told the Herald on Sunday he has been given just two years to live after being diagnosed with kidney cancer, which has now spread to his lungs and spine.

But the TV star is making the most of all the time he has left.

"I thought this was a bit shit really. I cried once when the oncologist told me I was terminal - so I thought I have two years left what will I do with that?," he said.

So Cocksy bought a new surfboard, an old Holden station wagon and holidayed in Samoa - three ticks off his ever-growing bucket list.

In eight weeks he will marry Dana Coote - his partner of two years - and hopes to finish building his dream home in Tairua, in time for their honeymoon.

"It's all very well having a shortened life span but if you don't use it to your best then what's the point of having it at all," he said.

The pair met at Variety children's charity's fundraising bash.

Cocks described him and Coote as "soulmates, always on the same page". He was looking forward to tying the knot again.

"I've been married before but my partner hasn't been, so I wasn't against it," he said.

"I love her deeply so I put the old knee on the ground and said 'Do you want to marry me and make yourself the happiest woman in the world?'. She said 'Okay'," he laughed.

The magnitude of his battle for life became evident last year.

"I came off the rugby field last year in April and saw blood in my urine," Cocks said.

"A few days later I had to go to Australia. I was in massive pain.

"I ended up in customs with massive clots 'downstairs' [in my bladder] and was sent straight to hospital. Three days later they took my kidney out -it was covered in a massive tumour. I had terminal kidney cancer."

Cocksy said he was "running well" on one kidney but the cancer had spread to his lungs, and tumours have grown on his spine.

After Cocksy's kidney was removed he was driven to get fit and build up his immune system.

"I'd been cut from side to side- there was a massive intrusion, it's broken all of my stomach muscle, my stomach wall. I didn't have good abs before, I have zero now. The fitter you are, the better you are", he said.

For the past six months the celebrity builder has been taking a cocktail of drugs which has taken its toll.

He is on a daily dose of morphine, as well as pills to help treat the cancer.

Dana Coote and John Cocks will marry in eight weeks. Photo / Supplied
Dana Coote and John Cocks will marry in eight weeks. Photo / Supplied

"For back pain I take a small dose of morphine, it's very small and I try to skip it if I can help it," he said.

"For the cancer ... it's one pill each day for two weeks, and a week off - that's for the rest of my life.

"You build a lot of poison in your body - my feet are tender and my fingers are sore. You get a really dry mouth. I get reflux and a bad feeling in my chest. At this point eating is hard."

Cocksy starred in the reality housing and renovation shows after previously hoping to have cracked into the cast of much-loved Kiwi soap opera Shortland Street.

He said he had an epiphany at a building conference in Hawaii in 1999 which saw him finally take the step to TV.

"I'd had a couple [of beers] when author Bryce Courtenay, the guest speaker, said one thing that struck me; 'If you have a dream, follow that dream, there are not enough dreamers in the world'.

"It sobered me up. I said to the other guests at the conference, 'Did you hear that, did you hear that? I'm really excited, I am going to be on TV'."

Eight months later Cocksy saw an ad in the local paper for April's Angels and successfully auditioned for the show.

My House, My Castle - which offered house owners and hopefuls tips to get on the property ladder and improve their homes - is still his favourite show he worked on.

"It suited me. I got to be myself - it wasn't scripted. It wasn't a DIY show," he said.

"At the time people were doing their own stuff and cocking it up - but we got to show them the right way to do it. It was funny and entertaining, when we were filming and Hamish [designer Hamish Dodd] was on set, I'd be throwing him into the skip or pushing him into the pool," he joked.

Cocksy admitted he's not scared of dying but worries about Coote, and his three daughters from his first marriage, Georgia, 22, Ella, 19 and Sophie who turned 18 last week.

"For the person who is going to [die] it's not such a drama. My fear will be for my girls, my partner and the people I love - how they continue their lives when I'm not there to help them," he said.

"They are the ones who will have to go through the grief.

"Dana is positive, but I know she has moments. My girls are the same. But I say to them, 'Guys you have to carry on with your life'."

Forever chirpy, Cocksy says he's been blessed to have had a great life.

"I have built many houses. I have brought people so much happiness with a roof over their heads and I've enjoyed being on television and making people laugh."

His special place is Tairua where he owns a 1000 sq m site with a "lovely aspect".

"I had to look at what made me happy and where I was happiest at- that was my little place in Tairua. The environment there just builds me up- the surf, the fishing and the diving".

And he simply wants to be remembered as "Cocksy the TV builder who never built a TV".

- Herald on Sunday

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