Ontario man's petition to lower colorectal cancer screening age across Canada gets tabled: 'I won't give up'

After being read and tabled earlier this week, Bishop Brigante's petition will get a response from Parliament within 20 days.

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Bishop Brigante is urging medical professionals and policymakers to lower the age criteria for colorectal cancer screening in Canada. (Photo courtesy of Bishop Brigante)
Bishop Brigante is urging medical professionals and policymakers to lower the age criteria for colorectal cancer screening in Canada. (Photo courtesy of Bishop Brigante)

When Bishop Brigante was first diagnosed with colorectal cancer last October, he initially wanted to lay low and fight his battle in private. But after learning many people within his circle lacked knowledge about their overall health, he realized he needed to kickstart some change.

"A lot of people grew up scared of doctors because they didn't want bad news, they don't like doctors because it's a scary thing," the Scarborough, Ont.-born rapper tells Yahoo Canada. "I've had so many of my peers in the music industry, so many of my peers from communities I've grown up in like, 'What is this?'

"It's unbelievable to me the percentage of people that I will get on the phone with that have no idea what I'm even talking about."

The 45-year-old explained that throughout his life whenever he had symptoms like stomach pain or blood in his stool, he was told it was simply hemorrhoids. When he was younger and went to his doctor in hopes of scheduling a colonoscopy, he was denied because Canadian guidelines recommend waiting until you're over age 50.

Brigante decided to advocate for his health and push his doctor for a requisition form. The physician eventually agreed. After the procedure, which Brigante notes was "completely painless," a tumour around six to seven centimetres was discovered and a biopsy revealed it was cancerous.

"I'm 45. I could've been fighting this in my 30s," Brigante, who's now based in Hamilton, Ont., says. "I could've been fighting this sooner and it would've been a completely different fight."

In late January, Brigante created a petition urging medical professionals and policymakers to push for a lower age criteria when it comes to colonoscopies in Canada. At more than 25,000 signatures as of Feb. 22, the petition urges for that criteria to be set at age 30, specifically for men.

Research released last month by the American Cancer Society indicates colorectal cancer is killing more young people than ever before. While it was the fourth-leading cause of cancer-related deaths for men and women younger than 50 in the 1990s, it has since grown to become the first in men and second in women amongst that age group.

In Canada, it was estimated in 2023 that 24,100 Canadians will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and 9,300 Canadians will die from it — representing 11 per cent of all cancer deaths last year.

In a Thursday update to his petition, Brigante shares he and his family went to the Queen's Park Legislative Assembly of Ontario on Feb. 20 where MPP France Gelinas read his petition and had it tabled into Parliament.

"As she read out the petition, I couldn't help but remember what it was like the moment I was diagnosed with cancer. It was a nightmare," Brigante adds in his update. "I was scared, sad and confused all at the same time. As she continued to read my petition, I thought about all of the people after me that will experience that same nightmare."

Brigante notes the petition will see a response within 20 days, and whether or not it's successful, he's "ready for the next phase of the movement."

Since beginning his cancer battle last fall, Brigante says he's had to cancel at least 11 performances as he undergoes chemotherapy. And while the treatments might be taking a toll on his body, he isn't letting himself fall behind.

Under his own fashion brand he created in 2019 called The Ends, the hip hop artist and actor started a clothing line named "Fight Ribbon," featuring hoodies, sweatshirts and T-shirts that can be customized with various different cancer ribbons. He's also prepping for a fundraiser screening in Toronto of the 2002 film "Narc," where he made his acting debut alongside stars like Ray Liotta, Jason Patric and Busta Rhymes.

"I've got a big fight on my hands, but I'm fighting," Brigante shares. "This movement is giving me even more strength because I didn't expect this many people to get involved so quickly and to be pushing the movement."

I'm so dedicated and I'm so lucky that I can even be here.Bishop Brigante

Even though his petition has now reached politicians, it doesn't mean the fight is over. Brigante says he hopes the petition reaches even more people, adding it's "imperative" that there's change.

"It should go by symptoms, it should go by blood in the stool, it should go by fatigue," Brigante says about the criteria for colonoscopies. "This is not an easy fight, and that's why so many people are dying.

"I honestly believe if they take away this age criteria, we will save so many lives, and that's important to me."

Colorectal cancer is a disease that affects your large intestine or rectum, and sometimes may not present any symptoms in the early stages. (Photo via Getty Images)
Colorectal cancer is a disease that affects your large intestine or rectum, and sometimes may not present any symptoms in the early stages. (Photo via Getty Images)

A Canadian study published last year in JAMA Oncology suggests lowering the colorectal cancer screening age to even age 40 or 45 would likely reduce the number of new cases and deaths. Using a microsimulation tool, researchers found dropping the minimum age to 45 would result in roughly 12,188 fewer cases and 5,261 fewer deaths over a 40-year period. Reducing the minimum age to 40 would take that further, with 18,135 fewer cases and 7,988 fewer deaths.

Since creating his petition and getting the support from thousands of people including health-care professionals, cancer survivors and people who have lost loved ones, Brigante says he's dedicated to spreading awareness and being a leader.

"If you read the comments that people leave, they're real people," he adds. "It's real people that are affected and have lost lives and lost people they love or are fighting colorectal cancer now.

"They're not just signing this petition because it's cool. They're signing this petition because they want to save lives."

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