Danny Graham is stepping down as leader of the Nova Scotia Liberals to help his wife deal with a return of thyroid cancer.

"Sheelagh and the boys have given me everything, everyday, and it's now time to give back," he told a news conference in Halifax Tuesday afternoon.

Graham, 41 and the father of three young sons, was elected party leader in April 2002 and elected to the legislature in the Aug. 5 election.

His wife, Sheelagh Nolan, who is also 41, was diagnosed with thyroid cancer soon after he won the leadership. She received treatment and doctors told her the disease was under control. Just one day before the election writ was dropped this summer, the family found out that the cancer was back.

"After carefully considering the situation facing our family, I have made the difficult decision that, in order to devote the time needed to support my wife and our children, I am left with no other sensible choice but to step down," Graham said.

"This is one of the last times that I hope to be commenting publicly on Sheelagh's health and the next time I hope it is to say that the sky is blue, the clouds have moved and we're on to brighter and better days," he told aides and reporters gathered at the news conference.

* Coverage from CBC Nova Scotia

Graham will stay on as leader until early January so that an interim leader can be chosen. He will continue to sit in the legislature.

The Liberals have 12 seats in the legislature, trailing the New Democrats who have 15. The two opposition parties have the ruling Progressive Conservatives in a minority situation.

Graham, the son of Senator Al Graham, worked as a special adviser in the federal Justice Department and also practised as both a corporate and defence lawyer before entering politics.