Male bravado meant I ignored cancer warning sign – don't make my mistake, says First Dates star Merlin Griffiths | The Sun

"PLEASE learn from my mistakes – get tested and don’t be embarrassed,” First Dates barman Merlin Griffiths, tells the Sun.

Laughing down the phone, the Channel 4 star has lost none of that charm he radiates through our screens on the dating show – despite his grim diagnosis. 

Merlin says: “You never really realise how common cancer is until it happens to you.” 

The 46-year-old bartender – who chats to the daters while they wait at the bar for their match in the hit show – was diagnosed with bowel cancer in August 2021. 

Bowel cancer is the second deadliest form of the disease in the UK, claiming 16,000 lives every year.

But, caught early it can be cured – and screening is a vital part in the early diagnosis puzzle.

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After ignoring typical symptoms of the disease for several months, Merlin’s cancer had reached stage 3 by the time he saw doctors.

The much loved star was given a 75 per cent chance of living beyond five years.

"Toxic masculinity"

When asked why he delayed seeing a GP, Merlin admits he had let classic male bravado "get in the way".

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"It was that typical male reticence thing of going – 'oh I'm fine', 'it's nothing really', 'I'll be alright.'"

"I tried to convince myself that the pain just wasn't important," he explains.

This sort of attitude among men isn't uncommon when it comes to their health.

Generally, men are known for being poor at keeping of track of their health, seeing doctors or straight up ignoring signs of illness.

This, according to many experts, is the direct result of a cultural pressure to conform to an unhealthy and unrealistic archetypal image of what it means to be masculine.

So-called 'toxic masculinity' can mean many men feel the need to be tough and so avoid getting a medical check up when necessary.

A new survey has revealed that a third of people who know the symptoms of bowel cancer and are experiencing some, would put off seeing a GP for three months.

The research, conducted by the Stay on Track campaign, found that only 40 per cent of people who experience symptoms would see their GP straightaway.

Three months prior to the devastating diagnosis, Merlin started to get pain in his stomach, which he thought was because of a car accident that happened when he was 20.

"I managed to pull the wool over my own eyes for a worryingly long time," he adds.

He calls on people to learn from his mistakes and not "be embarrassed to tackle these issues head on."

"This could have all been avoided if I'd seen my GP when my symptoms first began"

"Believe me, doctors have seen it all – I should know," he laughs.

Since his diagnosis, Merlin has gone through a series of gruelling treatments including chemotherapy, radiotherapy and robotic surgery to removed the cancer itself.

Living with cancer

Doctors have now fitted him with a stoma bag – to give his bowel time to recover, he tells The Sun.

A stoma is an opening which is made in the abdomen with surgery, to divert waste out of the body and into a colostomy bag.

"I really struggled with the bag to begin with, it's changed the way I behave, eat and how active I am."

Merlin says he used to be a very keen cyclist.

"I used to cycle very long distances from Florence to Rome and up and down the French Alps at the drop of a hat.

"I've not been able to do for a while," he adds.

"This could have all been avoided if I'd seen my GP when my symptoms first began."

Cancer that’s diagnosed at an early stage – when it isn’t too large and hasn’t spread – is more likely to be treated successfully.

So far, Merlin's treatment has been successful and he is hopeful doctors will be able to remove the stoma soon.

He will have to return to hospital for regular tests for the next five years before he can get the all-clear.

"It's amazingly easy to get tested these days – especially since screening tests are being sent to over 50s," he says.

What are the first symptoms of bowel cancer?

Being aware of the signs and symptoms of bowel cancer, spotting any changes and going to your doctor is vital.If you notice any of the signs, don’t be embarrassed and make sure you speak to your GP.The five red-flag symptoms of bowel cancer include:

  • Bleeding from the back passage, or blood in your poo
  • A change in your normal toilet habits – going more frequently for example
  • Pain or a lump in your tummy
  • Extreme tiredness
  • Losing weight

In some cases bowel cancer can block the bowel, this is known as a bowel obstruction.

Other signs of bowel cancer include:

  • Gripping pains in the abdomen
  • Feeling bloated
  • Constipation and being unable to pass wind
  • Being sick
  • Feeling like you need to strain – like doing a number two – but after you've been to the loo

In December last year, people in their 50s in England were invited for NHS tests to check for the earliest signs of bowel cancer for the first time.

This came after the The Sun's No Time 2 Lose campaign – championed by Dame Deborah James – called on the Government to lower the age limit for the life-saving stool tests from 60-50.

Until 2021, bowel cancer screening in England began at 60, while in Scotland tests were sent out to people on their 50th birthday.

Now, the new programme is being rolled out meaning everyone over 50 will receive an a bowel cancer testing kit every two years to do at home and send away for testing.

If any abnormalities are found, patients will be called in for further testing including a colonoscopy.

A colonoscopy is a procedure in which a doctor uses a colonoscope or scope, to look inside your rectum and colon.

"It's simply incredible that you can pop some poo in the post and that can save your life," says Merlin.

However, because Merlin in under 50, he did not qualify for the screening programme – which meant it to was up to him to seek help from a GP.

"It's still so easy to get tested," Merlin explains.

"Go to your GP if you have symptoms and be strong about it.

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"Let them know how you feel and ask for a test," he adds.

Stay on Track is a campaign with Merlin Griffiths, in partnership with Norgine and Bowel Cancer UK, which aims to raise awareness of bowel cancer and the importance of screening, testing and early diagnosis.

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