Sunny Carney's book on cancer helping others cope

January 12, 2012 12:00 am
  • Sunny Carney with her husband, Mark, and, from left, sons Nolan, 13; Austen, 15; and Logan, 14.
    Sunny Carney with her husband, Mark, and, from left, sons Nolan, 13; Austen, 15; and Logan, 14.
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When Sunny Carney decided to write a book about her experience dealing with a rare form of cancer, she didn't want to focus on the treatment, the "indescribable" pain or any of the negative things about life with cancer.

"It talks about the good in cancer," she said.

Mrs. Carney, 41, of Plum, has been chronicling her thoughts in a blog for more than three years. In 2004, she was diagnosed with low-grade neuroendocrine carcinoma, also known as carcinoid. This particular type of cancer is tricky to diagnose, and by the time patients receive a proper diagnosis, the disease is too advanced to effectively treat, Mrs. Carney said.

"By the time the tumors show up, they're in major organs and it's too late," she said.

The ribbon color marking support for carcinoid research is a zebra print because the cancer is so difficult to diagnose; Mrs. Carney's doctors initially suspected anxiety or an autoimmune disorder.

Doctors often tell medical students, "If you hear the sound of hooves behind you, assume it's a horse, not a zebra," reminding them that what is wrong with a patient usually is something simple, not something obscure. In practice, this often is true: Most of the time, it's a common disorder, such as asthma, but sometimes it's something more rare, such as carcinoid.

It was a medical student who ultimately nailed down Mrs. Carney's diagnosis, she said.

Carcinoid cannot be cured, but it can be treated. Mrs. Carney underwent FDA-approved treatments and was involved in clinical and experimental trials in the United States, but those only helped for a short time. She has traveled to Switzerland three times to receive a treatment called Peptide Receptor Radionuclide Therapy, in which small receptors travel directly to the tumors and kill them. She said the treatment has stabilized her tumors, giving her more time. She plans to return to Switzerland Jan. 20 to undergo another round of the treatment.

Mrs. Carney initially was diagnosed with ovarian cancer when she was 25. Doctors removed one of her ovaries, and she was told it was unlikely she'd be able to have children, but if she and her husband, Mark Carney, wanted to try, they should start right away.

Annie Siebert: asiebert@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1613.
First Published 2012-02-09 19:30:50
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