When Jacob Coker was diagnosed with the very rare cancer synovial sarcoma in September last year, his family were left reeling.

"This was something which happened to other people and you never expect it to happen to you," his mother Amanda said.

At the time his father Greg was working on a Norsewood dairy farm and when Jacob and Amanda rushed to Starship Hospital in Auckland, it was his mother Judith who stepped in to make sure Jacob's siblings could continue their home and school routine.

"She was awesome, always on standby and without her support it would have been pretty hard," Greg said. "Life couldn't stop, we just had to carry on."


Jacob, then 12, was diagnosed with synovial sarcoma on a Friday and was in Auckland on the Sunday.

He underwent four rounds of chemotherapy and 25 days of radiation, which had to be stopped because he suffered radiation colitis, an inflammation of the colon that occurs as a side effect of cancer radiation therapy to the abdomen or pelvis. Then a six-hour surgery followed.

The surgery removed a 887g tumour from his abdominal wall.

"The surgeon took out abdominal muscles and replaced them with mesh," Amanda explained.

"After radiation every day for six weeks Jacob was left with no immunity at all. The chemotherapy and radiation were horrible, but they are amazing at Starship Hospital. The doctors talked to Jacob as well as to us and always asked if he had any questions. They blew me away with their approach and Ronald McDonald House became our second home."

The Cokers said they were grateful for the awesome support of family, friends and the community.

"People would drop off meals and to some it was just a meal, but to us it was so much more," Amanda said.

"People donated money for fuel and food too. This is a club [child cancer] you never want to join, but there is amazing support. At first it was really hard to accept people's offers of help. Even people we don't know have supported us and the Child Cancer Foundation have been a great help in Auckland and back home in Dannevirke."


Along with family and friends, the Dannevirke community stepped up in a big way to help the family, with someone even paying for their vehicle's warrant of fitness, local Forbes Plumbing and building companies helping out, converting the family bath to a shower, helped by a $2000 donation from cancer support. The work has given Jacob back his independence.

"The support here in Dannevirke has been amazing," Greg said.

After what was the worst year of their life, Jacob is currently cancer free, but will need an MRI every three months for the next five years.

"We don't know what the future holds," Amanda said. "What he's been through has hit me hard, but he was back at Huia Range School three days a week last term and he wants to try full weeks this term. Both Norsewood and Huia Range Schools have been very supportive.

"Jacob pushes himself a bit because he just wants to be like others. He's made this terrible time so much easier because he's been so courageous. He's made everyone stronger. We did this together as a family, even when Greg was working."

Big sister Sarah, 10, told the Dannevirke News, "I love my brother." Sarah is using Jacob's cancer journey as the inspiration for her upcoming school speech.

Greg said his son's diagnosis was a dreadful shock and forced him to rethink his priorities in life.

"The big thing was realising family is more important than long hours spent working," he said.

Inspired by his son's courage, Greg put himself through the rigours of applying for a new job and now commutes to Hawke's Bay for work.

"We don't sweat the small stuff anymore," he said. The couple had purchased their home in Dannevirke before Jacob's diagnosis last September and with Amanda worried about the damp, they installed insulation in the ceiling.

"I then rang DVS to enquire about how much it would cost to put in one of their systems so we could save up for one,," she said.

"To be honest, we weren't going to ever be able to save the $5000."

But an amazing generous offer from DVS has meant the Coker's have had a DVS and heat transfer system installed for free.

"It's amazing and made such a big difference. It's prevented our house from being cold and damp and so much better for Jacob."

Last Christmas Jacob was in hospital in Palmerston North with his mother by his side.
"His Christmas present was platelets and blood," Amanda said.

"We're definitely looking forward to a family time at Christmas this year. When we look back on the last year it blows our mind with what we've been through. But you just keep on going, with the support of amazing family and friends and this community."

The family moved into their Dannevirke home on Boxing Day while Jacob and his mother remained in hospital, but family made sure the move went ahead and their new home was waiting when Jacob was discharged.