Judy Rea stands in front of her view of Digby Island and the Pacific Ocean.

Heart of our city: Prince Rupert cancer fighter Judy Rea moving on

After four decades living on the North Coast, Prince Rupert's Judy Rea has decided it is time to say farewell.

After four decades living on the North Coast, Prince Rupert’s Judy Rea has decided it is time to say farewell.

Over the years, Judy has helped out whenever she could, earning a reputation as a compassionate and dedicated individual. The absence of the longtime nurse, cancer fighter, health advocate, church choralist/organist and volunteer will be felt by many in Prince Rupert.

While Judy has loved her life on the North coast, she will be moving to Invermere in the coming weeks to be closer to family. Her husband, Bob, passed away a number of years ago, with the pair’s two children no longer living in the community. The move is bittersweet for Judy, who has adored her time in Prince Rupert but is looking forward to spending more time with her three grandchildren.

“I’ve been through all of life here, but there’s another part of life to come,” she said.

Judy was born and raised in Manitoba, where she trained to become a nurse. When her training was complete, Judy moved to British Columbia after landing a job in Bella Bella at the United Church Hospital.

“It was a 10-bed hospital, so you did everything,” she remembered.

As part of the job, Judy and other hospital employees would travel around the area providing medical service in remote communities.

“We would fly into Rivers Inlet, Klemtu and a couple other places to hold clinics because they didn’t have doctors,” Judy said.

In 1974, after meeting her future husband, Judy moved to the North Coast with Bob, who had gotten a job with B.C. Packers in Port Edward. The couple lived in cannery housing at first, but soon after decided to build a boat and live on it. For a few years they called the 40-foot motorboat their home, up until Judy became

pregnant.

“Living on the boat was very different for me, coming from a farm,” she said.

“It was fun. You can just untie the lines and take your holiday.”

Judy continued her career as a nurse in Prince Rupert, first working at the old Green Clinic assisting the doctors.

Judy looks back fondly on her time there, remembering Dr. Green’s endearing quirks.

“He was gruff, but he had a heart of gold,” she said.

In 1984 Judy started a full-time position in Prince Rupert’s hospital, working in maternity and administration for the first half of her 30 year-employment there.

But after being diagnosed with melanoma in 1998, a passion to help fight cancer ignited in Judy. Following the surgical removal of the melanoma, Judy took on a new position as an oncologist at the hospital.

“The last 16 years in oncology has been the best job, but the hardest. You get to help people at a time when they’re devastated and learn a whole lot from them. You get as much as you give,” she said, adding being an oncologist has taught her the importance of living life to the fullest each day.

She also liked being able to work one-on-one with patients and getting close with them and their families.

It was around this time that Judy began hosting sessions on cancer prevention and the importance of screening to raise awareness in the community, eventually becoming the BC Cancer Agency cancer prevention coordinator in Prince Rupert. For a number of years she organized annual PSA and colorectal screening clinics, and facilitated a prostate cancer support group.

Her involvement didn’t end there. Judy helped raise funds for the Canadian Cancer Society by organizing the Daffodil Campaign in the community for more than 10 years and was a recurring participant in the society’s annual Relay for Life event in Prince Rupert. Money collected from the campaign and relay goes to cancer research, advocacy, prevention, information and support.

“Cancer is such a devastating disease. We know now that there are things we can do to improve our health, and if we’re going to get cancer to get it detected early and treated properly. Before nobody figured there was a way to prevent it, but with all the research we have come a long way,” Judy said.

“When I started 16 years ago, there was very little for palliative (care) … that has developed a lot. We can now help palliative patients with a better quality, and maybe a bit of a longer life.”

To support female cancer survivors in Prince Rupert, Judy and a few others formed the Rainbow Warriors Dragon Boat team.

“We had a core group of breast cancer survivors that I felt would really benefit from the exercise and comradeship,” she explained.

After approaching Joan Patriquin to be the coach, the team started to blossom with female cancer survivors and their supporters coming together each week. The team stuck together for a number of years, with men eventually joining the Rainbow Warriors too.

Judy loved being able to get on the water and exercise, while observing the beauty of the ocean and seeing marine and wildlife up close. She also treasured the sensation while working as a team gave her rowing the dragon boat.

“When you’re pulling together and it’s going smooth … it’s a really good feeling,” she said.

When asked what she would miss most about Prince Rupert, Judy pointed out the window of her Atlin Avenue home to the stunning harbour view and laughed. But she said it will be even harder to part with all the friendly, supportive people of Prince Rupert, making special note of the members of the church she’s attended for 40 years, who she considers family. Still, Judy is looking forward to the next chapter of her life.

“It’s been a great 40 years, but I’m excited to move and get closer to family and start something new.”