Alberta Cancer Foundation

Advanced Care

Photos by Kelly Redinger

When Krista Rawson runs a marathon she experiences a plethora of emotions. “There are moments in the race that are fantastic and moments that are painful, times that are hard and times where you just need to keep moving forward.” But as she describes it, “In the end you usually get to celebrate your own hard work and energy.” She’s recounting her experience as an ultra-marathon runner (an ultra has a distance longer than the usual 42 kilometres that marks a marathon). But she could easily be talking about her job as a nurse practitioner at the Central Alberta Cancer Centre in Red Deer.

In November 2009, Rawson became the centre’s first nurse practitioner since the centre opened its doors in 1982. (It has been at its current location, adjoining the Red Deer Regional Hospital, since 2005.) The bustling 887-square-metre facility, complete with 10 treatment chairs, five treatment beds and four examining rooms has a catchment population of more than 285,000 from across central Alberta and it provides an growing number of services.

An innovator in her field, Rawson came to the centre with an abundance of knowledge cultivated through her experience at the Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton, where she began her career as an RN. In 2003, after completing her master’s degree in nursing, Rawson became the institute’s first nurse practitioner. When she with her new designation, Rawson says that cancer care staff working with patients who had breast and gastrointestinal cancers expressed the most interest in adding a nurse practitioner to their teams. She added lung cancers to her portfolio when arriving in Red Deer.

“I have always believed that nurse practitioners would be beneficial in cancer care,” says Rawson when recounting her decision to pursue her master’s degree and continue working at the Cross. “It was like, ‘leap and the net will appear,’” she continues. Just over a year and a half ago, Rawson took another leap when she moved south to Red Deer and began working at the CACC.

Edmonton’s loss quickly became Red Deer’s gain.

Marathon Effort: Red Deer Nurse practitioner Krista Rawson’s day includes as many as 25 patients, such as Larry Wilton, but she takes time to learn their stories.
Photos by Kelly Redinger

“Krista’s arrival to the CACC was like winning money on a scratch ticket,” says Rawson’s coworker and officemate Pat Gramlich who has worked at the CACC for more than 14 years. Others at the centre agree, including nurse manager Myrna Kelley. “Krista has been a valuable resource to both patients and staff,” says Kelley who adds that patients and families are thrilled with the time and attention Rawson devotes to their care plans. “She goes above and beyond to tap into all resources that are available,” says Kelley.

Red Deer patient Rena Vanson was introduced to Krista after having already gone through a portion of her journey with breast cancer. “My first appointment in Red Deer was with Dr. Graham and Krista,” says Vanson. “From that appointment on, it was Krista who helped me navigate the many twisty turns of chemo treatment. I’ve been extraordinarily blessed with wonderful health professionals all throughout this journey and she is my shining star.”

After four months under the care of Rawson and the team at the CACC, Vanson has completed her chemotherapy treatments. She calls Krista her Obi-Wan Kenobi, comparing Rawson to the fictional Star Wars hero. “She knew my file right from the start,” says Vanson, “and was able to foresee my questions. Her answers were compassionate but forthright, kind but not patronizing.”

A day on the job for Rawson is a marathon in itself. She walks or rides her bike from home, arriving at the CACC early in the morning. Her commitment to fitness has made her coworkers more conscious of their own fitness needs. They see her walking to work in the morning when it’s 30-below or biking in the rain and are inspired to ramp up their own fitness routines. Once she’s at work, she hits the ground running.

Like most nurse practitioners, Rawson works autonomously in a clinic setting for a portion of her day. “Prescribing and diagnosis is part of my job,” says Rawson, “but I like to think of each person as having unique circumstances and stories.”

It’s those stories that connect her to the patients and help her guide them through their treatment process. “There are so many layers to dealing with cancer and I try to touch on all of them,” says Rawson, who uses her buoyant conversational aptitude to learn about the lives of her patients. “I ask them about their hobbies and the things they like to do, I can read about their health issues, I want to get to know them.” No mean feat, given that she sees as many as 25 patients in a day.

She wouldn’t trade a thing: “I have the greatest job in the world.”

Make 2X the impact