TORONTO - Jack Layton vowed Friday to beat the disease that his father once overcame, saying he will stay on as leader of the New Democrats while he's treated for prostate cancer.
"This year, more than 25,000 Canadian men are going to be diagnosed with treatable prostate cancer and I recently learned that I'm one of them," Layton told a news conference in Toronto.
"I want to ensure that my constituents know that I will be carrying on as a member of Parliament for Toronto-Danforth and as leader of the New Democratic Party of Canada."
With his wife, fellow NDP MP Olivia Chow, at his side, Layton read brief statements in English and French. He declined to take any questions.
"It's the same kind of prostate cancer that my dad was diagnosed with 17 years ago," said Layton. "I intend to bring to this battle the same sense of determination and optimism that he did. I'll have his genes on my side as well."
Chow too is a cancer survivor, said Layton, and like his wife and his father he intends to beat the disease.
"My wife Olivia knows a thing or two about taking on cancer, having been diagnosed with thyroid cancer just a few years ago," he said.
"She won her battle, and I'm going to win mine as well."
Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered Layton his thoughts and prayers, and said politicians that attack each other almost daily can be, and often are, good friends.
"It's a funny business this; you do battle with a guy for many years but at the same time you often develop a very close relationships with some of your counterparts," Harper said in Saskatoon.
"Laureen and I certainly consider Jack and Olivia friends and we just wish him all the best. I look forward to doing political battle with him for many years to come."
Layton, 59, said his treatment plan is underway - his staff say the type of treatments are to remain between Layton and his doctor - and he joked about having something to watch on television while he's not at work.
"Everything is on track and I'm feeling good," he said. "In the coming weeks, the schedule of treatments might mean I'll have a little more time to watch the Olympics on TV."
Having Layton sidelined could be a real blow to the New Democrats, who feel the leader has been responsible for solidifying their base and enabling them to think big. Layton has great personal ratings in polls on who Canadians would like to have a beer with and who would make best prime minister.
Layton broke the news to the NDP staff and caucus Friday morning, said long-time press secretary, Karl Belanger.
"Mr. Layton is receiving support from many New Democrats already who just heard the news, as most people have, so he felt really good, and we all are very confident about what's going to happen next," Belanger said.
Layton has represented the riding of Toronto-Danforth since 2004. He just celebrated his seventh anniversary as leader.
"We recognize that there's still work ahead of us to build that caring and green Canada that we believe in," Layton said. "And I can't wait to roll up my sleeves on Monday morning and get started."
Ontario NDP Leader Andrea Horwath praised Layton for raising awareness of prostate cancer and the need for men to make sure they get their PSA test.
Layton was diagnosed during a routine checkup in December and will be treated in Toronto, added Belanger, who said he did not have details on the type of prostate cancer the leader has.
The Canadian Cancer Society estimates that, in 2009, 25,500 new cases of prostate cancer would have been diagnosed and 4,400 Canadian men would have died from it. It is the most commonly diagnosed form of cancer in the country, with lung cancer second and breast cancer third.
Notable politicians who have battled prostate cancer include former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani, retired U.S. Senator Bob Dole, and former Liberal cabinet minister Allan Rock.
"It's great that he has come out and publicly announced it and is prepared to talk about it," Rock, who is now president of the University of Ottawa, said in an interview.
"One of the real challenges in men's health is overcoming the reticence on the part of men to talk about health issues. The fact that another public figure has done so, I think, is very helpful and is to be admired."
The Canadian Cancer Society website says prostate cancer, which starts in the cells of the prostate gland, usually grows slowly and can often be cured or managed successfully.
The prostate, about the size of a large walnut, is part of the male reproductive system and is located close to the rectum just below the bladder at the base of the penis. Its main function is to make part of the liquid that mixes with sperm from the testicles to make semen.
The society says one in seven men will develop prostate cancer during his lifetime, with the risk being highest after age 60, and one in 27 will die of it.