Alberta Cancer Foundation

Hope For the Future

Three veteran oncology professionals share where they found inspiration in their careers and what makes them hopeful for the future of cancer care in Alberta

By: Nathan Kunz

Photograph by Buffy Goodman.

Dr. Robert Pearcey

Professor emeritus at the University of Alberta; locum staff radiation oncologist at the Cross Cancer Institute and Grande Prairie Cancer Centre

Dr. Robert Pearcey moved to Edmonton from the United Kingdom in 1986. In the 38 years since, he’s acted as a champion of quality cancer care in Alberta and an advocate for patients across the country. Pearcey retired from his professorship at the University of Alberta in 2020, but still treats patients as a maternity leave cover and through locum positions — it’s a transition he credits as his “new lease on life.” Beyond his clinical and academic work, Pearcey also led the Cross Cancer Institute’s radiation oncology department, served as president of the Canadian Association of Radiation Oncology and helped advance close-to-home care for patients in Grande Prairie.

“I was at university doing a chemistry degree specializing in natural sciences when my mother developed ovarian cancer. Unfortunately, she eventually died from it. That inspired me to finish my degree in natural sciences, go on to do a degree in medicine and begin training in radiation oncology in 1979.

“I hoped to help patients, help them through the disease and, hopefully, to cure them. And I also hoped to add a little bit to general knowledge about medical practice and push the frontiers a little bit through academic medicine and research.

“I was head of the Cross’s radiation department for 14 years, and I do think that I left the department stronger than I found it. It was during a time when things were a bit difficult in Alberta, during the cuts of the Ralph Klein years, but we managed to maintain and actually strengthen the department. I achieved that by recruiting some really good people, fostering the residency training program and hiring some of our own residents who have turned out to be outstanding individuals.

“It’s obviously very rewarding to just see other people being successful. Not just the ones that I hired, but especially the ones that I hired.”

Photograph by Jared Sych.

Karen Murray

Registered nurse specializing in hematology and bone marrow transplant at the Tom Baker Cancer Centre

Karen Murray describes herself as a lifelong learner. The born-and-raised Calgarian has spent her 30-plus year nursing career providing bedside care at the Foothills Hospital and Tom Baker Cancer Centre. All the while, Murray has mentored the next generation of nurses, emphasizing the importance of providing the supports patients and families need, within the cancer centre and beyond.

“The expertise that’s all around us carries so much hope. Soon, we will have a brand-new Calgary cancer centre. But, more than the building itself, it will be filled with brilliant doctors and nurses who want to provide the best care to cancer patients in the city and in the province. That big, beautiful building stands as a beacon of hope. It is my hope that it will be filled with staff who are enthusiastic to provide that care.

“I don’t think anybody chooses this as just a job. It’s a choice; you need to give a lot, but I think we also get a lot back — from patients, from families, and from knowing that you’ve given someone the care they needed and deserved.

“It gives me hope that, should I ever need care, I know that I’ll be in the best hands, too.”

Photograph by Jared Sych.

Dr. Doug Stewart

Retired medical oncologist; professor emeritus at the University of Calgary; senior medical director of the Cancer Strategic Clinical Network

Three things drove Dr. Doug Stewart to a career in oncology: an inspiring patient population, opportunities for advancement in care and the chance to not just treat, but cure, diseases. Over three decades working in this field, Dr. Stewart has found ways to succeed within all three areas, lending his expertise to clinical care, research and ensuring game-changing advancements reach the wider public through the Cancer Strategic Clinical Network.

“Cancer has been researched extensively. And I don’t just mean in Alberta, I mean globally.

“These advances — the understanding of cancer and improvements in the treatments — that’s what has given me the most hope for the future. There’s all this research activity that’s translated into practice.

“On the hard days, usually, I turned to my colleagues. Knowing everybody’s working together with a common focus and goal always gives you hope that you’re going to be able to achieve that.

“A second place I find hope on hard days is the patients and the families themselves. You commonly see a lot of hope in patients; they’re filled with hope. And so it’s easy to go talk to your patients and feel re-energized.”

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