Marco Levytsky, National Affairs Editor.
Mark Warawa, Member of Parliament for Langley-Aldergrove, B.C. died on June 20 at the age of 69, only a few weeks after announcing doctors had found cancer in his lungs, colon and lymph nodes. His family posted on Facebook that his final message to constituents was “It’s been an incredible honour to have served my community since being elected federally in 2004.”
Warawa was a devout Christian who was proud of his Ukrainian heritage. He served on the Canada-Ukraine Parliamentary Friendship Group as a director and chair and joined then Prime Minister Stephen Harper on his historic visit to Ukraine in 2010.
“My grandparents came to Canada in 1906 from Brody area near Lviv, and to me it was a homecoming, I was the first in my family who was able to come back to Ukraine, and it was a very emotional trip for me and it was also a very good experience to be able to be in Ukraine, speak to Ukrainians and hear historical challenges they face, be able to meet them first hand and to learn from them and their challenges in history and also present day, and how we can continue to grow the relationship. For me it was a very fulfilling trip, as well as to other members of the delegation. We are optimistic that the good relationship between Ukraine and Canada will continue to grow,” he told Ukrainian News correspondent Serhiy Kostyuk at the time.
Warawa returned to Ukraine just a few months before his passing, this time to serve as an observer for the presidential elections, but he only managed to stay for the first round.
“I had to come back early because I was turning yellow. I was very jaundiced. I came back, went to the hospital after a few days, and doctors found that I had a pancreatic tumour. They then found that I had colon cancer and then that the pancreatic cancer, which is the same as what Steve Jobs had, had spread to my lungs. The prognosis from the doctors is not great. However, I have a strong faith in God; and the God who created me can heal me,” he said in his farewell speech to Parliament on May 7.
But he also used the occasion to comment both on the emotional side of being diagnosed with cancer and on the failures of the medical system.
“When someone is first given the diagnosis that there are some serious problems, doctors are dealing with the physical person, but there is more than just the physical to us. There are the spiritual and the emotional sides, the psychosocial, but that was left un-administered to. While the doctors were looking at my physical condition, that was being ignored. This is tremendously important. Doctors give a diagnosis and look at how they are going to fix a patient, at what kind of operation is needed or what chemo, but what about the person? What about the family and the distress? We need to encourage our medical system to make sure that they are providing a ministry for the rest of the person,” he said.
“I have experienced first-hand the difficulty of accessing palliative care. We know from statistics that it is not available to 70% to 84% of Canadians, a tragic number. Our system is not designed to meet that need. We are trying to fix the body, but in some cases it is better not to do the heroic thing, not to remove the organs or use chemo and that sort of thing. Science has shown us that people can live longer and have a better quality of life, in some cases, if they are given palliative care, but those options were not provided to me. Why is that?
“The system is broken and needs to be fixed. We passed Bill C-277. This Parliament is coming to an end, but I hope that the next Parliament will make a commitment to fix that and provide leadership in Canada, maybe through a university chair or something, so we can fix this situation. People are left in despair, emotions are raw and family support is not there, but they are not given the opportunity for palliative care. What is the only remaining option? If it is not surgery, it is maybe that they should consider MAID, medical assistance in dying. I was on the legislative committee when we discussed that proposal and passed it. We had to, because of the Carter decision.
“We have a situation in Canada of basic needs not being met, and out of desperation people are saying that the easiest way is to end their life through an injection. They are saying that would be the humane thing to do, but we cannot force people into that kind of a choice. We have to provide palliative care,” he added.
On the day of his passing tributes poured in from members of all the parties in parliament.
“I know he was dearly loved by those who work in this House,” said fellow Conservative Ed Fast. “In fact, if there was an award for the kindest MP in the House, I am guessing he would have won that award. However, if we had asked Mark what the most important thing in his life was, he would have said it was his deep and abiding faith in God’s providence and hand on his life.
“Mark embraced his journey with cancer as he did most things, with dignity and grace, with courage and hope, with an open heart and lots of prayer. He was a passionate Christ follower and loved Jesus with all his heart and soul. That is what he would have wanted us to have known and remembered him for,” he added.
And that is what we, in the Ukrainian community remember him for. May his memory be eternal.