MAFS’ Mel Schilling: ‘It was a shock, but I’ll fight cancer’

MAFS relationship expert Mel Schilling bravely opens up about her recent health battle


by closer |
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Just before Christmas, Married At First Sight’s Mel Schilling’s world was turned upside down when she was given the life-changing news that she had colon cancer and needed urgent surgery to remove the tumour.

“Hearing a doctor say, with a terribly serious face, ‘It’s cancer’, is a moment you’ll never forget in your life,” says the Aussie TV psychologist, recalling that December day in her consultant’s office in London.

“My hubby Gareth was with me, and we had very different reactions. I went into shock, pulled out my phone and started looking at my work schedule, saying, ‘But I’ve got to be on set!’ It was completely irrational. But Gareth was really upset and had to leave the room to get some fresh air.”

While the diagnosis was a huge blow, Mel, who’s 52, says she’s grateful and relieved her cancer was treatable. The TV star had successful keyhole surgery nine weeks ago to cut out the tumour and has just started chemotherapy.

She explains, “It was stage three, so not necessarily a good news story; it was very serious, but it was operable. The tumour was about the size of a lime, which is big, and I now know it had started moving through into muscle and lymph nodes. So, the little b*****d had started spreading!” Mel reveals she’d been feeling unwell for some time before her cancer was diagnosed but had been busy with work and put it down to exhaustion and jet lag.

She says, “I wasn’t listening to my body; I was very much focused on working, filming MAFS Australia, The Reunion. I had one night where I was doubled over in pain, it was so debilitating I couldn’t talk.”

Experts John Aiken, Mel Schilling and Alessandra Rampolla
Experts John Aiken, Mel Schilling and Alessandra Rampolla ©E4

But when Mel returned to the UK, her symptoms had become worse, and she knew she couldn’t ignore them. She says, “I hadn’t done a poo for three weeks and I couldn’t hold anything down; I was even vomiting up water. Everything shut down and there was no way I could go on. I was rapidly losing weight and nauseated the whole time. I knew something was very serious by that point.”

Keen not to waste any more time, Mel found a gastroenterologist in London, who sent her for a CT scan, which picked up the cancer.

She says, “The main red flag for him was the unexplained weight loss, which was something I’d been paying no attention to. I don’t weigh myself but had noticed my wedding rings were starting to fall off.”

Happily, Mel’s recovery has been going well since the surgery in December, and she’s currently back at work filming the new season of MAFS UK.

“I’m feeling great, but my energy isn’t back yet,” says Mel. “I’m changing the way I work in terms of building downtime into my schedule; that’s a real priority for me now.”

Mel says the love of her family has been key. She met husband Gareth Brisbane, 51, on a dating site and they married in Bali in 2018, and they share daughter Maddie, nine.

She says, “Maddie has been amazing. One time, we were on a flight and I was doubled over in pain, and she grabbed my hands and said, ‘Mummy, breathe with me’, and it really helped because I was panicking. It was beautiful.”

Mel believes her positive outlook and sense of humour have also kept her going, and she even named her tumour Terry!

“I think that’s a very Aussie thing to do; use humour in the face of darkness,” she laughs. “When Terry left the building, that was a life-changing moment. I’m an optimist and in many ways that’s what’s got me through. Some might call it denial, but I haven’t allowed my brain to go to those dark places.”

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Mel admits the past few weeks have made her refocus on what’s important in life, and she’s putting her wellbeing first. She says, “The big wake-up call for me has been to listen to my body.”

She is now also learning all she can about bowel cancer and gut health, and has been making changes. She says, “Half of all bowel cancers are lifestyle related. Two big things I need to avoid are red meat and processed meat, and I’m focused on eating a high-fibre rainbow diet with lots of plant-based foods.

“Exercise is important to me, but I have to ease myself back in and can’t wait to feel strong again. My attitude is, ‘I’m going to fight this thing, move through it and be OK’.”

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