Shelby Petonak 

Founder of the Pillows for Patients program 

Pine-Richland senior Shelby Petonak, 17, finds comfort in helping breast cancer patients. 

In the late summer of 2017, Shelby’s mom, Wendy, was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer. The news devastated her tight-knit family. 

Wendy was treated at Allegheny Health Network’s Cancer Institute. Between my dad (Joe), siblings (Joey and Nate), the Pine-Richland cheerleading families and the doctors and nurses at AHN, my mom had a reliable support team to help her recover. There was one object that helped to support her physically after surgery: a heart-shaped pillow. It is designed specifically for mastectomy patients,” said Shelby. 

The Axillapilla® by Masthead® comfortably supports the axilla (underarm) and other sensitive areas post-surgery and helps to relieve underarm pressure so breast cancer survivors can relax their arms without pain or wear a seatbelt comfortably during a long car ride. These pillows are something functional that patients can use and make the whole process a little easier and a little more comforting,” Shelby said. 

Shelby wanted breast cancer patients who recently had a mastectomy to have one of these pillows She felt they would also benefit as much as her mother did.  With that in mind, Shelby founded the Patients for Pillows program.  She raises the necessary funds so that the pillows can be purchased for the patients. The AHN’s nurse navigator then distributes them. 

When she started her fundraising quest, Shelby was seeking to raise $3,000. “I achieved that goal in two and a half weeks thanks to the generous donations of friends, family and people in my community,” Shelby said.  The majority of the funds were raised during football games this past season and online. 

Shelby’s fundraising initiative has been so well received that she decided to raise the bar and has set a higher target.  “My goal is now $30,000 to fund the program for three years.  I have currently raised over $7, 000,” Shelby said. 

To donate to AHN’s Pillows for Patients, visit 

By Paula Green