NEWELL - Sharon Staple and her sister, Vicki McNicol, are one in two million.
The sisters were both diagnosed with carcinoid cancer less than five years ago. McNicol was diagnosed first, after suffering severe symptoms, and Staple was diagnosed a year later.
Because Staple's symptoms were similar to other health problems, she and doctors didn't discover she had the cancer until later, she said.
"The odds of one person having carcinoid cancer is one in a million. If you have two sisters in the same generation, the odds of them having it are one in two million," she said.
McNicol, 60, got sick suddenly.
"She had really bad pains and we took her to have a colonoscopy," Staple said.
Detecting the Cancer
Staple would like to encourage anyone suffering from long bouts of abdominal pain, bowel problems, vomiting, flushing, and wheezing to be aware of the possibility carcinoid tumors.
"If you suspect this, please take the (proper) tests to determine whether you have carcinoid cancer," she said.
She recommended the 5-HIAA 24-hour urine sample, and/or a Chromogranin A (CgA) blood test. Both tests are geared for the detection of carcinoid tumors.
"If people can get tested early, as with any disease, you have a good chance of full recovery," she said.
She also wished to provide the following information obtained from carcinoid foundations:
- Over 90 percent of all carcinoid patients are incorrectly diagnosed and treated for the wrong disease.
- A majority of doctors are not aware of current diagnostic and treatment options.
- Irritable Bowel Syndrome and Chron's Disease are the two most common misdiagnoses for patients with midgut carcinoid.
- An estimated eight to ten thousand new cases are reported yearly, and this number increases by five percent annually.
The procedure four years ago at Allegheny General Hospital revealed McNicol had a carcinoid tumor.
Staple had an exploratory laparotomy resection of her bowel in February of 2008 for a carcinoid tumor.
"We were both told that our progress was grim - that it would only be a matter of months for survival," Staple, said.
Staple's symptoms lasted for years and weren't as severe as her sister's, although the cancer had spread throughout her body during that time.
She said someone can have symptoms for years and not even know they have the cancer. Symptoms include wheezing, flushing, diarrhea and heart palpitations, among others.
The cancer does not respond to chemotherapy or radiation treatment, she added.
She takes a shot once a month to minimize symptoms, and occasionally takes medication for pain.
After the surgery in 2008, doctors told Staple, 64, she had three months to live.
"I thought I would fall apart (emotionally)," she said. "I have been waiting to fall apart, but I haven't. It is only through the Lord's grace I am alive ... my time is in His hands."
The sisters live in Newell and Staple and her husband, Dennis, attend the Pleasant Heights United Brethren in Christ Church on Grandview Avenue in East Liverpool.
"Both Sharon and Vicki are filled with faith and are living life to the fullest even in the midst of a terminal diagnosis," Kay Cilone, who attends the church, said.
Their father, the late Buck McNicol, was a noted area baseball player, and their brother, Gary McNicol, was killed in action in Vietnam.
Staple served as a sergeant in the Army for six years before returning to her hometown to take care of her parents. Her mother, Jean, resides at the Fox Nursing Home in Chester.
Staple said she met her husband in the service while stationed in Germany. When they moved to Newell, they ran an upholstery business for several years.
Later, Dennis Staple suffered a traumatic brain injury, and the family wasn't sure he would pull through.
"We didn't think he was going to live through that. He was in a coma for a while," she said.
Dennis Staple had to learn how to talk, eat and walk all over again.
Staple has maintained her faith despite her circumstances, and she genuinely believes God has blessed her life, and the lives of her relatives.
"He is doing very well now," she said of her husband.
Staple's condition is stable currently, and she continues to look forward to the future. She spends her free time reading the Bible and biographies of others who have experienced trying circumstances, she said.
She credits her sister, her husband, and the church for their encouragement.
"I look up to my sister. I admire and respect her so much for what she is going through," she said.
The church is sponsoring a dinner and concert at 6 p.m. April 30 in honor of Staple. All money raised will go toward carcinoid cancer research.
The roast beef dinner is $12 for adults and $6 for children. Tickets can be purchased at the church, or from church members.
Musical entertainment will be provided local talent, including Patty Russell, Stacey Howell, and Peggy Bouscher.
"I feel so humbled they are doing this for me. Actually, not for me, but for all those that may be suffering from this disease," Staple said.