Obituary: Alicia Carney / She cherished life during 10-year fight against cancer

Aug. 31, 1970 - Nov. 3, 2012

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Alicia "Sunny" Carney, whose 10-year battle with carcinoid cancer rallied a large group of supporters and spurred her to publish a blog and a book about coping, died Saturday in UPMC Shadyside of complications from the disease. She was 42 and lived in Plum with her husband, Mark, and three sons.

Mrs. Carney traveled to various cities trying every treatment available in the United States, including clinical and experimental trials, and went several times to Basel, Switzerland, for treatments she couldn't get in the U.S. Her search prompted community fundraising events such as Wiffle ball and football tournaments, to help with the cost of travel and treatments that were not covered by medical insurance.

She was also an advocate who spoke at many events about the need for better diagnosis and insurance coverage of carcinoid cancer, a rare type of the disease that is difficult to identify in its early stages.

Mrs. Carney began her blog, sunnycarneycarcinoidcancerfund.blogspot.com, in 2009 to keep friends updated on her condition. It gradually became an outlet for her feelings and thoughts about living with an incurable disease. Last year, she self-published her book, "The 'Sunny' Side of Cancer," about her determination to live life with happiness.

Asked by an interviewer about posting so much personal information for anyone to see, she replied that it was a release for her, and that once she wrote it down she could let it go.

She had a strong religious faith that kept her hopeful, her husband said.

"In her opinion she was blessed by the cancer because it taught her to stop asking 'Why me?' and start thinking 'Why not me?' She had such a strong support group of family and friends, and she wanted to help others. It sounds too good to be true, but that was Sunny."

Born Alicia Denise Jennings, she was the youngest of seven children -- so much younger than her oldest sibling, Judy, that she and Judy's son were the same age. As a child, she was so upbeat and happy that her father called her "Sunny," and the nickname stuck.

Her father, James Jennings, was the warden of the old Allegheny County Jail on Ross Street, and the family moved from Greenfield to the jail's residence when she was small. Mr. Carney has an old Sunday Roto magazine with a photo of his wife and one of her sisters playing basketball in the jail yard, and she told him about the family having to move out while the film "Mrs. Soffel" was being shot there.

She had a Catholic school education, attending St. Rosalia Academy and Bishop Boyle High School before graduating from St. Paul Cathedral High School, then earning a bachelor's degree in accounting from Robert Morris College.

Working her way through college as a waitress at Eat'n Park restaurant in Squirrel Hill, she met Mr. Carney, who lived nearby and worked there as well. Usually they pulled the overnight shift, from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m.

"You really bond with your co-workers when you work the graveyard shift," Mr. Carney said. They married in 1995 and served Eat'n Park smiley cookies at the reception.

Mrs. Carney worked for Robert Half International, recruiting temporary staff for various companies and was moving quickly up the ranks when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. The doctor removed one ovary and told her that if she wanted children she should have them right away. The couple took the advice to heart and had three sons within four years. The cancer went into remission.

She became an enthusiastic at-home mom, learning cake decoration and making all the boys' Halloween costumes by hand. She also ran and taught herself photography, opening her own business and shooting everything from weddings to school sports teams.

The tumors returned, and eventually she was diagnosed with low-grade neuroendocrine carcinoma. A string of treatments bought her more time, and Mr. Carney said that even when in pain, she remained grateful for every day.

In addition to her husband, she is survived by sons Austen, Logan and Nolan; her mother, Patricia Jennings of Greenfield; sisters Judy Phillips of Bethel Park, Lynn Pesta of West Mifflin and Sheila Fortes of Hampton; and brothers Michael Jennings of Cranberry, James Jennings of Twinsburg, Ohio, and Joseph Jennings of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Visitation will be today from 7 to 9 p.m. and Tuesday from 3 to 8 p.m. at Unity Community Church, 215 Unity Center Road, Plum, where funeral services will be held Wednesday at 11 a.m. Arrangements are by Charles W. Trenz Funeral Home.

Donations may be sent to Carney Family Fund, c/o S&T Bank, 2190 Hulton Road, Verona, PA 15147.

obituaries

Sally Kalson: skalson@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1610.


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