A Victoria woman is speaking out after her mother opted for Medical Assistance in Dying after waiting more than 10 weeks to see an oncologist for her aggressive cancer.
Samia Saikali, a doting 67-year-old grandmother, moved to Victoria seven years ago to be closer to her grandchildren.
Knowing she was dying, Saikali created a box for each grandchild that includes birthday cards for every year until they turn 18.
Her daughter, Danielle Baker, said her mother wanted to make sure she finished the boxes.
“Six boxes all with special cards. That was my mom,” she told CHEK News on Friday. “She was everywhere in our lives. She wanted to make sure that could continue on in any way possible.”
Now Baker is speaking out about her mother’s battle with cancer, and the long wait she endured for treatment.
“She always told my sisters and I, use your voice to speak up. She always spoke up for the underdog, so I promised her that I would do this,” she said.
Months of waiting
After a trip in December 2022, Saikali felt something was wrong.
On March 17, she received a diagnosis of inoperable stomach cancer. Her surgeon told her she had two options: Without treatment, she had only three to six months to live. With chemotherapy, it would add at least a year to her life.
“She said I’ll do what I can, like, I will do treatment and fight for as long and hold on for as long as I can,” said Baker. “I want to have the summer, at least, with you girls. We had so many plans. But she started to go downhill so quickly with the gastric cancer.”
It took 10 weeks to get in to see an oncologist.
By then, she had only weeks to live.
“It should not have taken that long, because that was the difference, especially an aggressive cancer,” said Baker. “Between my mom being strong enough to handle, and withstand, treatment to give her a fair shot at more months to live, versus not.”
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The Chief Medical Officer with the BC Cancer Agency, Dr. Kim Chi, said the goal is to have 90 per cent of people referred to an oncologist within four weeks, but admits there is work to do.
“We prioritize, and re-prioritize, and try to see patients as soon as we can,” he said. “I recognize any wait, even a one-day wait, for people facing a diagnosis of cancer or whatever it is, we really want to shorten those timelines.”
B.C. Premier David Eby admits the province is failing to deliver services to patients in the province.
“I am not satisfied with where we are with cancer care in the province,” Eby said from Vancouver.
Baker is hoping that by telling her mother’s story, others will get the treatment they need more timely than her mom did.
“I’m so happy that I can use her story, and her voice, to amplify this message,” Baker said.
As her time and options ran out, Saikali chose Medical Assistance in Dying and took her last breath on June 22, leaving behind her grieving and angry family.