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Labour leader Andrew Little’s cancer scare

His wife knows she can be one to badger, but this time he’s glad.

The nagging wife – it’s one of those old stereotypes where the exasperated but determined woman is constantly on at her partner about something or other.

Leigh Fitzgerald isn’t any different – she loves a good nag – or “constant encouragement”, as she prefers to call it. In fact, if it wasn’t for her badgering, her husband, Labour Party leader Andrew Little (51), might not be around today.

It was 2009 when Leigh, a former nurse, noticed her husband displaying a few symptoms that she thought indicated there was something wrong with his prostate.

“I went to my GP for my regular check-up and Leigh said, ‘Make sure you get your PSA (prostate-specific antigen) checked,’” tells Andrew. “I didn’t think anything of it. But I diligently asked the doctor to do that…”

“Andrew thought I was mad,” adds Leigh, laughing. “And the doctor even said I was too young,” the Leader of the Opposition continues.

“But as I was getting blood tests anyway, he did it and the results came back with my levels slightly above where they should be.”

After waiting three months to see if his PSA levels rose further (PSA measures the protein that is produced when cells are abnormal), Andrew returned to his doctor to find they had indeed skyrocketed. A biopsy proved Leigh’s hunch correct, and Andrew, who was then president of the Labour Party, was diagnosed with prostate cancer at 43 years old.

“I was surprised,” admits Andrew. “There weren’t any instances of it in my family, although I do wonder if Dad may have suffered from it in his later years. But both the doctor and the cancer specialist said the younger you are, the more aggressive it’s likely to be.”

“The doctor told him that he could have been dead in five years if it hadn’t been caught as early as it was,” adds Leigh, who, despite her suspicions, was shocked at the diagnosis.

“You have them in the grave at first because you jump to the worst possible conclusion,” she says. “But once you know what’s happening, you start to feel in control and just get on and deal with it because you haven’t got a choice. And Andrew doesn’t really panic, he’s very matter-of-fact.”

After doing a lot of research on possible treatment courses, as well as speaking to friends, family and of course doctors, Andrew and Leigh settled on brachytherapy, where radioactive seeds are injected into the prostate to kill off cancer cells.

“A week after I had the seeds injected, I was giving my first president’s speech to the Labour Party conference, so my joke to a few colleagues was that I was in breach of the Party’s anti-nuclear policy because I was standing up there with a radioactive prostate,” says Andrew with a grin.

Both Andrew and Leigh – who married in 2008 after a 10-year romance and have son Cam (15) – favoured the brachytherapy over radiotherapy or surgery as it meant Andrew could be back on his feet within a week.

Leigh admits that her husband isn’t the world’s best patient.

“I had to hold him back!” she remembers.

“I watched a whole box set of DVDs that week,” tells Andrew. “I don’t get time to do that very often, but it was brilliant.”

Now completely clear of cancer for six and a half years, Andrew spoke out during Blue September, the Prostate Cancer Foundation’s national awareness campaign, to raise the profile of the disease, as well as encourage men to go to the doctor and not rely on their own partner’s “constant encouragement”.

“I was very thankful for the encouragement!” says Andrew.

“I was hugely lucky. I remember walking out the door that day before I had my first doctor’s appointment and part of me said, ‘Typical Leigh, always fussing about something!’ But I knew if I went home and said to her that I didn’t raise my PSA with the doctor, I’d be banished. Who knows what would have happened if I didn’t?”

While he’s still not a big fan of going to the doctor, Andrew says he’s “pretty good” at paying attention to his health. And with an election looming next year, he knows he needs to be in tip-top shape.

“You can’t do a good job if your health is compromised,” he nods. “I know we men tend to think, ‘Oh, this’ll pass, we’ll get over it,’ or, ‘I don’t want to be sissy about this,’ or, ‘I don’t want to waste the doctor’s time.’ But you need to get checked.”

And as for Leigh, she still hasn’t given up the nagging, she admits with a smile. “I still push him,” she says. “In fact, sometimes I call and make the appointments myself!”

WATCH: Kiwi celebrities face their fears for prostate cancer

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