FIRST DATE star Merlin Griffiths is encouraging millions to get tested for cancer after his shock diagnosis last year.
The TV bartender – who plays in cancer charity Maggie’s new exhibition Living Every Moment – tells The Sun after undergoing chemotherapy and two operations, he is living with cancer.
The 47-year-old says: “It’s an important distinction to make. Just because you have an operation to remove the tumor doesn’t mean you suddenly don’t have cancer anymore.
“They used to call it remission, now they call it NED, which means there are no signs of disease.
“So NED comes after five years for bowel cancer. Now it’s a five-year rolling process before they’re ready to say okay, yeah, you’re about as in safety as possible.
He adds: “From there you will have even more regular checks than most and then it’s been ten years, you are off the list from ten years old. That’s as far as it goes.
“If there is no recurrence of the disease after ten years, then you are technically cured.”
Merlin, who runs his own pub outside the Channel 4 show, now has a stoma and is awaiting another operation later this year.
He adds, “It’s living with cancer in that sense.
“You’re also left with stats…in my case, there’s a 30% chance he’ll reappear in the next five years.
“So my disease-free survival rate is 70%, more or less.”
He swapped his First Dates uniform for a hammer and gloves at Maggie’s live every moment campaign video.
The mixologist is seen working on renovations at his Leicestershire pub, enjoying cuddles with his cat and taking a bike ride in the countryside in a series of little moments that matter to him.
He says: “It means so much to me to be able to start doing this (cycling) again. As the symptoms got worse and I kind of knew what was going on, I tried. And knowing that the chemo was coming, I kind of tried to start getting back on the bike.
“I could do a hundred miles in no time in a single day, so I tried, but because of where the tumor is – you know it’s rectal cancer – you suddenly realize oh, that’s why it’s so uncomfortable!”
What are the risk factors for bowel cancer?
You are at higher risk for bowel cancer if you have one or more of the following risk factors:
- you are over 50
- you have a strong family history of the disease
- a history of non-cancerous growths, called polyps, in your intestine
- long-term inflammatory bowel disease, such as Crohn’s disease or ulcerative colitis
- Type 2 diabetes
- an unhealthy lifestyle – you smoke, are overweight or obese, and don’t exercise enough
With a cheeky smile, Merlin squirmed in his chair, adding, “I was the classic mammal, you know, a middle-aged man in lycra, sitting there with this thing that weighs about three kilos, thinking, this n is not as comfortable as I remember!
“So this photo is awesome to me. And that’s what this campaign is about, living every moment.
“We all look at cancer and talk in that ‘battle’ language, and think about sick people and so on. But the fact is, most of us who are diagnosed with cancer, we live with it, we live with it, and we live beyond it.
Merlin first visited his GP last year with symptoms, but as he was under 50 and appeared to be in good health, his appointment with a gastroenterologist was booked several months later.
Prior to that he had been rushed to hospital with major symptoms and thankfully in A&E “they connected the dots”.
He says of the experience, “I didn’t expect to end up in A&E in excruciating pain, but there you go.”
He has since spent weeks in hospital recovering from operations and had dozens of visits to complete his chemo, which he completed in December last year.
HIDDEN COST OF CANCER
Merlin said he supports Maggie’s campaign to also highlight cancer-related debt, which is a huge problem for patients and families already crippled by rising fuel and parking costs.
He says, “We rarely talk about it. I’m lucky in the sense that I own my business but my business has taken a hit from my inactivity. For example, for six weeks at the end of last year, I was in the hospital every day, five days a week.
“The average (it costs cancer patients) is £540 a month more. I am in Leicestershire, my local hospital is Coventry. Imagine driving to and from for treatment, all that fuel, hospital parking costs, and then the cost to your family. For many treatments, you are not able to drive, to operate heavy machinery! There is a cost and a lifestyle adjustment.
“The Maggie’s guys are here to sit and hold your hand.”
His First Dates bosses were also “incredible” and adjusted filming around his treatment to ensure he stayed on screen.
His charm and cocktails have calmed the nerves of many singles at the famed restaurant since he joined the show in 2013.
So it might come as a surprise to learn that Merlin hadn’t touched a drop of alcohol for years before he was diagnosed with cancer.
He says, “Yeah, I haven’t (drank) for a long time. It was shortly before the first operation and I had had a glass of wine and a pint of beer.
“I phoned the oncologist and said, ‘Look, right now I just feel like I could use a little more joy in my life. She said yes, that go, go!”
It was something else we take for granted that almost sent him back to the hospital.
He adds: “In terms of food, I had to change things, I guess, it’s kind of a low-residue food that I have to eat. I can enjoy a glass of wine, but I can’t enjoy a rare steak.
“Seriously, so I was discharged from the hospital a week after the operation, and obviously still a little more uncomfortable. But regardless, we had a very, very, very nice coast of beef, barbecued, French style, so super rare, but charred on the outside.
“It almost sent me back to the hospital, I shouldn’t eat stuff like that. But I couldn’t resist! Honestly, I was drooling.
Merlin’s future looks very bright. He says his support network has been amazing, he’ll be back on First Dates and spin-off show First Dates Hotel when he returns, and he’ll be opening his second pub next year.
He has a stoma in his abdomen, which he says ‘saved my life’ and more scans to follow before Christmas.
He says, “I’m pretty happy to keep (the stoma) for the rest of my life, but knock on wood, I can get it knocked out before Christmas. I find out in the next few weeks, which is exciting.
“And then onto the next phase of recovery, which is adult potty training!”
From First Dates, he hopes to continue on the show for years to come.
He says: “I hope so, when there will be more filming. I’m happy to do it as long as they have me. At First Dates Hotel we were just in France and Italy.
“It’s about the people, it always has been. Working on first dates, everyone in the restaurant. It’s home away from home. For decades, just like Fred (Sirieix), we have both been originally hotel professionals. What we do there isn’t making TV, it’s hospitality.
“The moment one of our daters walks through the front door, you’re running a restaurant. That’s what you do. You make them feel comfortable. You make them happy.