First Dates bartender and Leicestershire pub landlord Merlin ­Griffiths reveals cancer diagnosis – Leicestershire Live

One of the nation’s most famous barkeeps, Merlin also owns the Dog and Gun pub
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Merlin ­Griffiths, the warm and welcoming bartender on the Channel 4 show First Dates, is battling bowel cancer.
The 46-year-old dad faces a year of treatment after doctors told him he has a 75 per cent chance of living beyond five years.
Six weeks since his diagnosis he has told the Sunday Mirror : “I won’t let it get the better of me.”
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In an exclusive Sunday Mirror interview, Merlin, who runs the Dog and Gun pub in Walton, near Lutterworth, described the moment he had to explain his diagnosis to his seven-year-old daughter, Alix.
He said: “I said, ‘Dad’s got cancer’. She said, ‘Is that bad, Dad?’
“I said, ‘Yes, it’s very serious but I think it should be OK. Modern medicine’s great and if anything changes I’ll let you know.’
“She understands that people can die but I told her cancer comes in different varieties and in different ways too – and that many people come through it.”
Merlin told how he started getting pain in June, around the time he took on his Leicestershire venture with his partner Lucile, but thought it was caused by scar tissue in his stomach from a car accident when he was 20.
But docs found a 4.5cm Stage 3 tumour, which he describes as “looking like an alien”.
Merlin says: “I thought, as most people must when they get a diagnosis, ‘Oh f***, I’ve got cancer’.
“I also wanted to know, what are my chances of surviving? It’s terrifying – of course I want to live.
“I’ve shed a tear in private. But you can choose ‘to do’ or ‘not to do’. I chose to lead my life as normal, to stick to the facts about it, and to keep putting one step in front of the other.”
Merlin is instantly recognisable as the bartender who helps couples break the ice as they meet on First Dates.
His easy smile and laid back nature have endeared him to viewers.
An incredibly private person who keeps his family and work life separate, he has taken the decision to tell the world about his illness before he appears next month on Stand Up to Cancer Live.
Until now he has told very few people. After breaking the news to Lucile, 40, it was a week before he told friends on the BAFTA-winning show.
They included French maitre d’hotel Fred Sirieix, and waiters Grant Urquhart and CiCi Coleman.
Merlin, originally from Cheltenham, said: “Lucile was working the day I got my diagnosis. I called her in the car on the way home from the hospital.
“I said, ‘Listen sweetie, we’ve found out what it is. It’s a malignant tumour and I need chemo.
“Of course she was incredibly upset. A week later I called some close friends. Fred was lovely and encouraging. He asked me how it has changed my life.
“I told him, ‘You either let it or you don’t. If you let it, it can take you down some pretty dark places’.
“CiCi and Grant were both shocked. Grant said, ‘Christ, man, this sort of thing always seems to happen to the best of people’. That was very sweet.”
Merlin won’t be drawn on the deep emotional impact of the diagnosis, saying: “I want to stack the decks in my favour, which means I’m going to remain broadly positive and resilient.”
Asked if he is in denial, he bristles slightly, saying simply: “I’m just not a whimsical person, I stick to the facts.”
But he is understandably “terrified” by what he has learned for himself since getting the diagnosis at Northampton General Hospital.
He says: “I started looking on NHS websites. I knew medical Google could be a minefield so I avoided that.
“It was still pretty scary. There were plenty of conditions that were lifelong.
“When I saw my tumour on a screen I could see this big, alien-like fleshy constriction. The doctors said, ‘It looks like a malignant tumour’. I knew what that meant – it was still alive and growing. But I was also relieved.
“I’d spent three months telling doctors something’s wrong. No one could give me an answer until now.”
He looked on trusted websites such as Macmillan Cancer Support to try to figure out his chances.
He says: “It was terrifying. Best case scenario, I’d get lifelong remission. Worst, I’d have a 14% five-year outlook.”
Merlin, who des­­cribes him­­self as “quite shy and retiring”, first saw a change in his bowel habits in June.
By July the bloating and nausea were so severe he went to A&E at Horton General Hospital in Oxfordshire.
But he admits: “It didn’t cross my mind it could be cancer.”
X-rays and a CT scan revealed nothing, then after seeing a GP he was booked in to visit a gastroenterologist.
By August the pain was so severe that he went back to A&E, this time at Northampton General.
He says: “I was living with this huge discomfort. It felt like a walnut stuck inside me.”
The next day doctors gave him an urgent sigmoidoscopy, probing his lower intestine, and found the tumour.
He reveals: “The tumour has breached the colon.
“It’s wanting to move into the tissues surrounding it. But importantly, it hasn’t got into the lymph yet, meaning it’s not spread.
“My oncologist said, ‘Your five-year outlook is 75 per cent [chance of survival], but we aim to cure’.
“Obviously that’s a lot lower than I’d want but I have so much faith in medicine and the NHS in this country, which is just so incredible.”
The only side-effect so far from his first chemo has been neuropathy, which affects the nerve endings.
He says: “I popped into the petrol station after the hospital for a Coke.
“I took it out of the fridge but I had to drop it, it felt like burning. It’s bizarre – a combination of frostbite, fire and electricity.
“But given the smorgasbord of really frightening side-effects, I can live with that.”
He says his oncologist hopes to remove the tumour in three months’ time, with more treatment to follow.Merlin is set on filming another First Dates this year, with strict Covid protocols and a room to shield in.
And he urges others with bowel concerns to go to the doctor.
He says: “I’m not the type to normally, but I knew something wasn’t right. It’s easy, especially with embarrassing cancers, to brush it under the carpet.
“But we must all trust our instincts.If you are worrying about something, then get it checked.”
He adds: “I’m keeping that positive outlook, but I’ve a morbid sense of humour. I tell people, ‘I have colorectal cancer… it’s a real pain in the a***!’.”
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