When she was told the terrifying news she had colon cancer last year, Married At First Sight dating and relationship expert Mel Schilling says she went into "autopilot", burying herself in her work.
"In the moment, I don't think I processed it at all," Mel, 51, tells TV WEEK.
"I went straight into work mode and started saying, 'I can't do this. I've got to be on set in two weeks' – whereas my hubby was beside himself. He got up and had to leave the room – he instantly felt the emotion of it."
After her symptoms were attributed to something else, Mel wants to speak out about her journey and raise awareness, particularly among women, to look out for symptoms. She urges them to get checked for the disease.
"We put it down to other things," she says. "I'd started HRT [hormone replacement therapy] six months before, and thought, 'It's just a hormonal thing.' But it wasn't."
Mel was on the set of MAFS when she "doubled over" in agony, unaware of what was really at play.
"We were filming over two nights," she recalls. "One night was the dinner party, and the next was the commitment ceremony. The first night, I had to keep standing up and walking away from the desk to catch my breath from the pain."
After filming, Mel managed to fly 24 hours back to the UK, where she'd relocated with her Irish husband, Gareth Brisbane, and their daughter Maddie, who's nine, in 2021. It was there that a CT [computed tomography] scan revealed what was causing her pain.
After months of treatment, surgeons successfully removed "Terry" – Mel's jokey nickname for the tumour that was attached to her colon – and she's on the road to recovery.
"I nearly had to stay in hospital on Christmas Day," she says. "It was about 9pm on Christmas Eve when the staff finally said they'd let me go. I only just made it home in time. I was still quite sick and couldn't really eat anything – but being back home with my family, particularly with Maddie, because Christmas is so important to little ones – meant the world."
While working towards prioritising her health, Mel hints that she has a few projects in the works, adding that her career is "blossoming" in the UK.
"I'm about to make a pilot for a new show," she explains. "I have my own podcast coming soon – it's going to be about everything to do with matters of the heart, the whole gamut of relationships, which I'll be unpacking every week. It will be all me, my own spin on things without being edited. That's really exciting to me."
As for the 2024 season of MAFS, Mel is excited to showcase the show's most age-diverse cast to date, with the relationship experiment welcoming its oldest-ever participant – 62-year-old motivational speaker Richard.
"A beautiful dynamic develops between an older guy and a younger guy," she says. "It's a mentor-mentee kind of relationship. The younger one calls him "Papa". It's so gorgeous – we've never seen that before."
Mel also assures viewers that this season is one to watch, as it will deliver more drama than expected.
"This season is really different in that there are so many storylines going on," she says. "In previous years, we've had one big, dramatic thing that happens, and a lot of the social dynamic built around that, whereas this year, there are constant fireworks. It's hard to keep up!"
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