Thomas C. Chernisky is President Commissioner of Cambria County. He grew up in Patton and now resides in Geistown and is the father of two daughters, Taylor and Megan.
What did you do before becoming a commissioner?
After graduating from Cambria Heights High School, my plan was to be a professional baseball umpire. I grew up on a baseball field and my dad was active in baseball and was in the American Legion Baseball Hall of Fame. In 1984, I graduated from Harry Wendelstedt Professional Umpire School. I umpired since I was 18, over 200 games a year – umpiring many different levels of baseball from AAABA to college to professional. I spent 10 years as umpire in the Frontier League and travelled a lot around the state officiating. I can still fill in if needed.
I worked in the insurance business for 29 years and left after I became a Cambria County Commissioner. Prior to becoming a commissioner, I was elected and served as jury commissioner for three terms and served twice as president of State Association of Jury Commissioners.
You seem to spend a lot of time at community events. Why is that important to you?
I was never going to be one of those folks who just sit behind a desk. I believe you should be out there in the community every day and not just in election years. I serve by showing up. You have to go out and meet the people and maybe you will be able to help them find answers to their concerns. That’s the way you find out what’s going on in the community and that may help you when it comes time to make decisions on things. I measure my day by how often I am out of the office. That’s how you get stuff done! I love this county. I love this region. I love this community. I try to do my best every day.
Running for political office is not the only running you do, is it?
I’ve always been a runner. For a long time, I ran four to five miles on my treadmill every day. Then one day, I ran two miles outdoors and found out that running two miles outside is more difficult than running four to five miles on the treadmill. For six years, I ran two miles every day. I didn’t miss a day. I ran at different times and locations. If the day was getting away from me, wherever I had my last meeting of the day, I would change into running clothes and go for a run. So, I ran through a lot of communities. I started increasing my distances and started running with a group of friends. I run in all weather. I enjoy running because it clears my head and gives me energy. I’ve met some of the nicest people while running or walking.
Tell us about the Chernisky Classic.
The 5th annual Chernisky Classic 5K Run/Walk & 10K Run takes place July 6th and raises money for the training facility of the Volunteer Fireman’s Association of Cambria County. The race is on the Ghost Town Trail and begins and ends at the Young People’s Community Center Trail Head in Ebensburg. Race day registration takes place from 8:05 a.m. until 8:50 a.m. with the start of the races at 9:05 a.m. It’s a fun time and 100 percent of the money raised goes to first responders. First responders are out there in all kinds of weather, at all times of the day. This event brings attention to first responders and can help with recruitment. We also want to support them in their training. It’s important for them to get the proper training. This event also brings attention to the Cambria County Trails.
You have been dealing with a health issue lately. Can you tell us about that?
I didn’t really know I had a health issue. But, I was feeling like I had to push myself. I did the Mario Lemieux 6.6 mile run in Pittsburgh and told my friends I was feeling off. I had a great run, but I felt there was something not quite right. I had just been dismissing it by saying I was getting older. My running friends convinced me that I should go get a checkup. In November, I went to MedWell. They found a lump in my neck and I had that followed up with a sonogram. The doctor looked at it and said he thought it was probably nothing, but thought they should take it out. I had outpatient surgery at Conemaugh and again I was told it was probably nothing but they sent it away for testing. I went for a run the next day.
I had a follow-up visit in two weeks and I can remember it like it was yesterday. The doctor came in and told me it came back cancer. I said, “Wait. What did you just tell me?” It felt like someone had just punched me. He said this was a highly treatable cancer, but those words packed a punch. I remember walking to my car and it felt like the longest walk ever.
They referred me to a specialist in Pittsburgh where there were more tests and they found out I had issues with some other lymph nodes. I had stage 3 thyroid cancer. I have since learned it is one of the most treatable types of cancer with excellent survival rates and doctors continue to say I have a great prognosis.
On Jan. 11th, I got operated on at Presbyterian Hospital. They removed the thyroid and additional lymph nodes which were cancerous also.
The next day I went for a walk and the day after that, I went for a run. I wanted to remain active and was not going to let cancer win. The doctors agreed to treat me actively. That was the game plan and road to recovery. Before radiation treatment, I had to go on a zero sodium diet for four weeks and off thyroid replacement medicine for five weeks. You have to read the labels on everything and I lost my taste buds, but I was going to do whatever the doctors told me to do. I want to live. I love my daughters. I love life. I wanted radiation done here at Conemaugh and started that on April 1st. I was not allowed to get any closer than six feet to anyone at first, then I was not allowed to be around anyone. In all, it lasted 12 days.
They gave you your pill from behind glass and it came in a steel container. They wore gloves and it was strange to think that I was putting that in my body.
But everything went well. I was tired, but I still worked remotely. Then I had a reaction to the radiation. My neck and face swelled up, and I had severe headaches. That lasted about five days.
A body scan after the treatments ended showed a few upticks where the radiation didn’t get to some cells. In July, I go back to see if the radiation got to them. There is a chance I could have to go through the process again.
I am on the road to recovery – working to get my energy back. I really did not miss any time at the county. As a matter of fact, I participated in two commissioners’ meetings remotely while being treated. It was important for me to remain active.
I want to say that all of the doctors and entire medical personnel in Johnstown and Pittsburgh treated me so well. They were the best! Very professional.
Has having cancer changed anything for you?
Yes, it has changed me. It has reminded me to appreciate each moment. Be thankful for the time that we have and you never know what someone is going through.
For more information on the training facility of the Volunteer Fireman’s Association of Cambria County, go to http://cambriavolfireassn.com/
For more information on the race or to register, go to Chernisky Classic on Facebook.