For almost three decades, Myrna Kelley has spent her days caring for Albertans dealing with cancer. Kelley works as a nurse manager at the Central Alberta Cancer Centre, located next to the Regional Hospital in Red Deer, where she oversees daily operations of the facility that handles an estimated 15,000 cases a year.
“The centre has really developed into a comprehensive cancer centre with lots of support to provide patients,” says Myrna Kelley.
She has been there in her current role since 2000, connecting with her staff of 12 nurses and making sure all patients are comfortable and receiving the care they need.
Kelley entered the world of cancer care in 1984 when she took on the role of a nurse at the centre. At the time, the centre was located in a tiny building with only enough room for two treatment beds. Three moves and 29 years later, it’s now a full-fledged facility with room for 27 patients.
“The centre has really developed into a comprehensive cancer centre with lots of support to provide patients,” says Kelley, noting there now is a social worker, physiotherapist and a dietitian on hand. “It has really grown.”
As a staple employee at the centre, Kelley has witnessed numerous changes in the field of cancer treatment and research. One of the biggest advancements the centre itself has made in recent years has been in bringing radiation treatment to central Alberta.
The centre had two radiation vaults installed in 2013, the same year they moved into their most recent location, making it easier for patients in the area to get proper radiation treatment.
“It’s been really fabulous for all patients in central Alberta,” says Kelley, noting before the radiation vaults were installed, patients needed to go to Edmonton or Calgary to receive their radiation treatments.
A rewarding Career: Nurse manager Myrna Kelley has a natural curiosity and desire to make a difference.
Photograph by Darryl Propp
Kelley has also seen cancer treatment options progress. “There are a lot more drugs available now,” says Kelley, noting drug advancement has allowed for more specialized care. “Prescriptions are becoming a lot more targeted and specialized for each patient.” Doctors and nurses have also learned how to better manage side-effects of cancer drugs.
She’s also seen strides made on the chemotherapy front, noting as each year passes, more patients are able to receive their treatment through a chemotherapy pump in the comfort of their own home. “There have been a lot of good things happening,” she says.
Despite the progress, the centre still faces numerous challenges. Kelley says not all cancer patients can be treated at the centre due to Red Deer’s small size. “It depends on their diagnosis,” she says, noting that sarcoma patients and those with head and neck cancers are usually referred to larger centres.
In addition, doctors at the centre deal with such a large number of cancer patients that their services are more generalized than those in larger centres, who can specialize their care. “There’s good and bad to that,” she notes.
The centre has also not been able to partake in any clinical studies, but Kelley says that may change in the near future. “We’re in discussions, and soon we may have an initiative to start up our first clinical trial,” she says. “As we continue to expand and get more confident in this new building and working with one another, I’m sure clinical trials will continue to grow and be part of our operations here.”
Kelley’s foray into the field of nursing began when she was living in her home province of Prince Edward Island. She enrolled in the general studies program at the local university to figure out what path she wanted to take with her life and eventually nursing caught her eye.
“I definitely think there are a lot of great things about nursing,” she says. “It’s been a rewarding career for me, always.”
She completed her registered nursing diploma and moved to Edmonton to get her feet wet in her newfound career. While working at a hospital in Edmonton as a general nurse, and completing her nursing degree at the University of Alberta, Kelley found herself fascinated by patients dealing with cancer.
“While I was working on the medicine unit, I was always intrigued and attracted to the oncology patients and I’m not exactly sure as to why. I just found it very interesting,” says Kelley.
She attributes her desire to delve into the cancer field to her curious nature. “There are so many different kinds of cancers,” she says. “Cancer research is ever-changing; there are always new things coming out to treat the patients and new ways to diagnose them as well. It’s an ongoing learning process and I think that’s what keeps it interesting.”
Shortly after making her decision to specialize in cancer, Kelley moved to Red Deer. She worked at the Red Deer Regional Hospital for three years before finding her current home at the Central Alberta Cancer Centre in 1984.
For the past three decades, Kelley has dedicated herself to her patients, ensuring they have everything they need to make their journey through recovery comfortable.
She said she wouldn’t change anything about her career. “I definitely think there are a lot of great things about nursing,” she says. “It’s been a rewarding career for me, always.”
And although she’s constantly learning about advancements in treatment, she’s also learned lessons from her many patients. “At the end of it all, I think the patients and what they bring to us is often more than what we give them,” she says. “They teach you to recognize the good things in life and not to take things for granted.”
She has had the opportunity to build countless relationships with the patients who have come under the centre’s care. “It becomes more than just a patient coming and going,” says Kelley. “You get attached to their patients and their families.”
Kelley says although cancer is often a tough journey, her job has not been a depressing one. “A lot of our patients look at life through a different lens; they tend to see the good things in life,” she says. “Our patients, the majority of them, are really appreciative of us and come in to the centre quite upbeat.”
Above all, making a difference in each patient’s life has been what pushes Kelley to do her best each day.
“In nursing, you get a true sense that you are really helping out and making a difference in these people’s lives,” says Kelley. “We get a lot of positive comments and feedback, on our work and the facility, but it’s not about that. It’s about the patients.”