Lydia-Molly Tayara, Inuk woman, says cancer went untreated due to discrimination

Lydia-Molly Tayara, an Inuk woman from Nunavik, says years of complaining of acute stomach pain were routinely met with questions about whether she drank. It turned out she had colon and liver cancer.

Complaint about acute stomach pain was met with questions about drinking at Nunavik clinic

Lydia-Molly Tayara is undergoing chemotherapy at Montreal's Jewish General Hospital after doctors discovered she had advanced cancer of the colon and liver. (CBC)

Lydia-Molly Tayara for years complained of stomach pain.

The social worker from Salluit, Nunavik — a small community in the northernmost part of Quebec — said she was routinely asked by doctors at the medical clinic in a neighbouring community whether she drank alcohol.

Each time, the Inuk woman told them she didn't.

She told them of pain so bad at times she had to lie down on the floor at work. She told the doctor her insides hurt so badly she sometimes couldn’t stand.

"I’m not a medical person. I didn’t know what my insides were," she said.

Tayara said she was given a diagnosis and some basic instructions.

"The first diagnosis was very good. It was about my intestines contracting, and I believed that," she said. For years, whenever her stomach hurt, she’d ask for a glass of cold water to help with her "contracting intestines."

But years of unrelenting stomach pain led her back to the clinic again and again.

"It was unbearable," Tayara said.

ER visit unveils advanced cancer

When the doctors' questioning changed from whether she drank, to how much she drank, she understood it to mean she was being profiled as yet another aboriginal person in Canada being accused of drinking herself sick.

"I have so many assumptions. My first assumption was that they thought I was drinking and that I was probably spoiling my stomach, because that was the last diagnosis I got," Tayara said.

In recent months, Tayara said she nearly had a stroke. She booked a followup with a neurologist in Montreal to get checked out.

My first assumption was that they thought I was drinking and that I was probably spoiling my stomach.- Lydia-Molly Tayara, cancer patient

She arrived in Montreal on Oct. 4. The next day she doubled over with stomach pain and headed to the ER at the Jewish General Hospital.

There she was told she had colon cancer that had spread to her liver, and was starting to spread to other organs. She said the doctor told her she had had cancer for years.

"That was the first time somebody mentioned cancer. I couldn't believe it," Tayara said.

She said the Montreal doctors told her she is one of the lucky ones — after removing over half of her liver, Tayara’s prognosis is quite good.

But, she said, doctors informed her it could have been treated 15 or 20 years ago.

Despite that, she said she still plans to return to Salluit after her chemotherapy is through, and she still travels back home between treatments. She told CBC News reporter Kate McKenna she simply couldn’t live with the trees in Montreal.

Staff at the clinic Tayara frequented in Nunavik were unavailable to comment over the holiday season.


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