Peter "Mad Butcher" Leitch is battling cancer.
The results of a biopsy confirmed on Friday that he has an aggressive form of bladder cancer.
"It was like a bomb going off. I've been in shock," Leitch told Sunday News. "My brother died of bowel cancer. My wife's been through breast cancer.
"But I keep saying to myself, at least I'm 65-years-old. I've been to the kids' hospitals, Kidz First and Starship, I've seen young kids [with cancer]. So mate, whatever the outcome, I've had a great run."
Leitch was reluctant to discuss his illness but agreed to talk publicly to drive home the message of getting early medical intervention.
His specialist, urologist Robin Smart, is hopeful a course of drugs later this month will beat the disease because it was detected early enough. "If it's left untreated, it has a bad prognosis because it tends to invade into the bladder and spread elsewhere, with a five-year survival rate, left untreated, of 20%," Smart said. "But... if we get it at a suitable early stage, which we have with Peter, it will usually respond to a course of special drugs into the bladder. His one is suitable for that approach and should have a very high chance of being fixed. I think the message he wants to give is go and get checked.
"If he'd left it and it had gone a bit further, then certainly major surgery could be on the cards. It has to be said if this treatment doesn't work, then that might be an option but that's unlikely."
Leitch will start a six-week course of drug BCG. He sought help in December after he "felt uncomfortable down below for some time".
"I took my own advice and went to the doctor. So many men don't go to the doctor.
"Lucky I have a good doctor. He put me on to [Smart]...who put me on some treatment but also teed me up for some tests."
He was stunned when he was told it was suspected he had bladder cancer. "The word cancer is a scary word," Leitch said. "A lead balloon drops on you. It's a shock at first and then you go into the unknown.
"No-one wants to die. I want to see the Warriors win a premiership, I want to kayak to Waiheke Island [from his home at Bucklands Beach]."
A tireless campaigner for charities – he is an ambassador for Allergy New Zealand, Prostate Foundation and Diabetes Auckland – Leitch said it was "an uncanny feeling" to be battling a potentially life-threatening condition himself.
"I've felt so sorry for so many friends over the years but [this] is just a whole new ballpark," he said. "My thoughts go out to the other people who've just got this sort of news. At least I'm financially secure. I'm blessed, not only do I have a lovely family, I have a lovely circle of friends and associates, who have already shown support. My thoughts go out to people less fortunate than me." When his biopsy was taken on Tuesday, he was arranging donations for a 22-year-old woman with advanced melanoma. Leitch is New Zealand rugby league's ambassador and a former Kiwis' manager and football personalities have sent messages of support.
Close friend, TV and radio sports talk show host Murray Deaker, has arranged for him to see a mate tomorrow who has survived the same type of cancer to boost his spirits.
"That's comforting to know people are thinking of you," Leitch said.
This is his third major health scare. He had heart surgery in 2007 after a blood clot was found in a main artery. Last year he was diagnosed with type two diabetes. His brother Gary, 70, died in 2008 from bowel cancer and Leitch's wife Janice battled breast cancer in 2006.