Alberta Cancer Foundation

Caring for Patients in Alberta’s Far North

By: Lynda Sea

“I view my role as helping to identify the leaders for change from within our diverse community.” — Tracy Peddy. Photograph by Tanya Sedore.

When the Grande Prairie Regional Hospital opened in late 2021, and the new cancer centre within it accepted its first patients that December, it was a landmark moment for northern Albertans living with cancer. The new Grande Prairie Cancer Centre is the northernmost radiation treatment centre in the country. It houses two radiation vaults to treat cancer patients, making it the only facility in northern Alberta to offer radiation therapy.

The $870-million building had been under construction for nearly a decade and took over from the Grande Prairie Queen Elizabeth II Hospital as the city’s acute-care hospital. It serves a catchment area as far north as High Level and into the Northwest Territories, as far south as Grande Cache, and as far east as Peace River. This now allows cancer patients living in this catchment area to undergo radiation therapy closer to home without needing further travel south, says Tracy Peddy, manager of the ambulatory and systemic department at the Grande Prairie Cancer Centre. The ambulatory area is the entry point for patients, where they meet with their physicians or nurse-practitioners to outline their treatment plans. The systemic area is where they’ll receive their therapies like chemo and immunotherapy.

“Prior to this, patients would have to travel to Edmonton or Calgary,” Peddy says. “And some of our patients still do have to travel as we don’t do paediatric oncology or specialized radiation, such as brachytherapy, here. But the addition of radiation therapy to the region has alleviated a great deal of stress and provided more resources for patients.”

At the Grande Prairie Cancer Centre, Peddy manages a team of 34 comprised of registered nurses, licensed practical nurses and clerical staff. She oversees personnel resources, recruitment and retention, and handles interdepartmental initiatives and budgeting.

Peddy says the new cancer centre sees about 4,000 patients a year and is triple the size of the old facility. She’s been a manager at the cancer centre since May 2022, but before that, she was the emergency department manager at Grande Prairie Queen Elizabeth II Hospital for six years.

“This new cancer centre is incredible compared to the old unit. The added space for patients to wait in comfort, the privacy during their consultations and the beautiful views during their therapy have improved their cancer journey,” she says.

Peddy is no stranger to the nuances and challenges of rural health care. She grew up in Beaverlodge, Alta., and worked in Grande Cache as a new nursing grad. She then became a manager at the Grande Cache Hospital in 2013, where she worked for 13 years.

Nursing and health care have always been a part of Peddy’s family — her mother was a licensed practical nurse, and now even her daughter is a nurse. “I just knew growing up I was going to do something within health care or something with frontline interaction with people,” says Peddy. “My passions and my roots were always with a rural site and that perspective.”

Of her rural health-care experience, Peddy adds, “It was the best supportive environment for learning nursing. But it was also the best for opening my eyes to every discipline within nursing and health care.

“You actually care for every single type of illness that could walk through the door, from birth to death. We saw quite a few patients going through cancer, and, because we’re so rural, we’d have to support them through that. But you also do absolutely everything else, too.”

In 2015, Peddy moved to Grande Prairie and joined the emergency department for 18 months before covering as an interim manager. That temporary position turned into a six-year career. In her emergency department manager role, Peddy oversaw a busy trauma centre that served all of northwest Alberta, dealt with the COVID-19 pandemic, and worked through the launch of Connect Care and the transition into the new hospital building.

“I like a project and a challenge,” Peddy laughs. “I’m a bit of an enabler. My greatest satisfaction comes in finding out what someone needs and somehow supporting them to get it.”

Peddy says she moved into oncology from emergency medicine because she wanted something less crisis-driven and more focused while working with a smaller team. In oncology, Peddy thrives on frontline interaction with patients.

“I really love cancer care because it’s unique in that the provider or the physician groups work extremely close with the frontline staff,” she says. “I get to work very closely with the provider group and help support them, whether in their daily practice or professional development.”

Contrary to popular belief, Peddy says working in oncology has been quite uplifting for her. “It’s a chronic illness to a certain degree now, as folks can live a long time and the treatments are amazing,” she says. “When you say palliative, that’s a whole different meaning in oncology. In the acute world, if you say someone is palliative, we tend to think they’re in their last six months of life. Palliative here means that you’re probably going to live with some form of cancer, but you can live with the treatments and the prevention. Your palliative journey can take you another 15 or 20 years.”

Of the many hats Peddy wears in her role, she’s most proud that she can give voice to Grande Prairie at the provincial level. “Because we’re part of a provincial program, I get to represent the site, the providers, the staff and the patients,” she says.

Daily, Peddy acts as an enabler, problem-solver, mentor and advocate for her colleagues and patients. Her focus now is on diversity and improving access to care for vulnerable populations. With its job opportunities, Grande Prairie has been a big draw for new immigrants, and Peddy says there’s opportunity to enhance care for the region’s Sudanese, Filipino and Indian population, as well as improve Indigenous patient supports.

“Northern Alberta is home to a diverse Indigenous population,” says Peddy. “The Grande Prairie Regional Hospital has a number of Indigenous liaisons who work closely as a group and with our Indigenous nurse-navigator. Being part of this hospital offers our patients the opportunity to practise such things as smudging and attend special hospital site events like drum circles. I view my role as helping to identify the leaders for change from within our diverse community and supporting them in sourcing resources and collaborations.”

Peddy says her big goal is finding ways to improve care by identifying barriers to access for treatment and care. And at the end of the day, Peddy says her measure of success comes down to people and relationships. “When I see a team that doesn’t really need their manager, that they’re very strong, that’s success. It’s the team that I leave behind — that frontline team and their connection to the other departments.”

Looking forward, Peddy hopes more outreach programs can improve care for the Grande Prairie area. And she feels she’s in absolutely the right role and at the right place to see to it.

“I do love teaching and mentorship and feel like this is where I actually have more of an ability to influence,” Peddy says. “I think it’s a sweet spot of just being right on the nexus of everything. I’m just really passionate about people supporting people, because when everyone else succeeds, ultimately, that leads to the best patient care.”

Photograph by Tanya Sedore.

Tracy Peddy’s career highlights

1991

Graduates with a Bachelor of Nursing from University of Alberta.

1991

Moves to Grande Cache and works as one of two registered nurses covering emergency, labour and delivery, outpatient, medicine, and post-surgical recovery.

2003

Becomes director of health services at the Grande Cache Hospital.

2015

Moves to Grande Prairie and joins the emergency department at Grande Prairie Queen Elizabeth II Hospital. She covers as interim manager during this time.

2017

Becomes emergency department manager at the Queen Elizabeth.

May 2022

Becomes manager of the ambulatory and systemic department at the Grande Prairie Cancer Centre.