BCA Tina Pelesky

Tina Pelesky, of Jennerstown, is sharing her breast cancer story because she "would like to help other people, if there are other women that need to talk."

JOHNSTOWN, Pa. – Tina Pelesky has an affection for veterans.

She has spent years helping address the needs that sometimes arise in their lives – from mental illness, to economic struggles, to legal difficulties, to just needing a friendly person with whom to talk.

“I enjoy working with veterans,” Pelesky said during an interview at Veteran Community Initiatives’ office in Upper Yoder Township. “They’re the best people to work with. I just think they’re caring and just very compassionate, even towards each other.”

Pelesky, a Jennerstown resident, said she feels the need to help veterans “because they have done so much for us.”

She continued: “They’re just so thankful. When so many people are like, ‘What can you give me? What can you give me?’ – veterans are not. Never. They help their neighbors. They help each other. They do stuff in the community.”

She has been recognized locally for helping veterans and others in need, including when she received a 2017 YWCA Tribute to Women award for her contributions to nonprofits such as VCI, Habitat for Humanity and the Girl Scouts.

‘I have no choice’

Pelesky previously worked at VCI for five years, but then left to take a job with the commonwealth’s Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs, beginning in January 2019.

Her life changed significantly during that time. In rapid succession, she broke her arm, lost her job when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and then was diagnosed with aggressive triple-negative breast cancer in July 2020.

“But I was still very optimistic,” Pelesky said. “I don’t want to say I didn’t cry about it. I was shocked. My kids were shocked. My husband was shocked. But we never thought that we wouldn’t get through it. I just knew.”

Much of her life became about dealing with the disease – treatments through Conemaugh Health System, hair loss, education about cancer – while still sharing life’s experiences with her husband, David Pelesky, and their children, Hannah, Faith and Nathan.

“I was a little bit in disbelief because I didn’t have any pain or anything like that,” Pelesky said. “It was considered Stage 3 because I had it in my lymph nodes. But I had so much support – my faith, family and friends. …”

“It was shocking. But when I looked at my kids, I thought, ‘Well, I have no choice.’ People say, ‘Well, how do you do it?’ You just do it. You look at your family and friends and they say, ‘We’re here for you,’ so you have to do it.”

‘Change your focus’

Pelesky originally only told close family members and friends about having breast cancer, but she is now sharing her story publicly because, she said, “I would like to help other people, if there are other women that need to talk.”

The cancer is now in remission, and the experience has enhanced her appreciation for the good things in her life.

“It does change your focus a little bit, spending more time with family and friends – not that I didn’t before,” she said. “You can always work. Work’s not going anywhere. If you can’t do it, somebody else will do it, and vice-versa. I just feel like spending time with family and friends is so important.”

She recently returned to VCI as the director of administration and caregiving for the organization, which serves veterans in 14 counties, including Cambria, Somerset and Bedford.

“It was like I never left,” Pelesky said. 

Dave Sutor is a reporter for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 814-532-5056. Follow him on Twitter @Dave_Sutor.

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