Tenia Workman is pitching in on preparations for the 2018 Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta. Photo by Scott Hollister
A year ago yesterday, Tenia Workman was standing on the second green at East Lake Golf Club — a member of the volunteer crew helping Ralph Kepple, CGCS, and his team prepare for the Tour Championship — when she got a phone call from her doctor that would change her life. She had been diagnosed with breast cancer.
For many, returning to the spot where they’d received such devastating news would be the last thing they’d want to do. But for Workman, coming back to East Lake to volunteer again for this year’s Tour Championship became a rallying cry during her recovery, a reward for all the trials and tribulations she went through in the past 12 months, and ultimately, a way to celebrate the clean bill of health she received at the end of it all. To put it simply, it was something she wasn’t going to miss.
“Making sure I was back here this week was most definitely a goal,” says the longtime executive director of the Georgia GCSA. “It might sound funny, but I was focused on being back here and having the backpack blower on my back again.”
Shortly after receiving the diagnosis, Workman underwent surgery. She and her doctors hoped a double mastectomy would spare her from having to go through additional chemotherapy treatments. The procedure went well, and in short order, she was back to work and back to many of her normal activities.
Additional post-surgery testing did uncover a few roadblocks, though. “They did a test ... to determine if you are a candidate for cancer to reoccur,” Workman says. “And it came back right on the line. So my oncologist said that he felt we needed to do a further test, because he didn't feel comfortable. They did that test, and it came back I was high-risk for cancer to reoccur.”
What that meant was the chemotherapy Workman had hoped to avoid with her original surgical decision would now be an inevitable part of her journey. She soldiered through those treatments, often driving herself to and from them before returning to work. “My oncologist told me I was a poster child for how to go through chemotherapy,” she says.
There were other challenges along the way. “I don’t want it to sound like it was all good days and no bad days. I had my share of days that just weren’t very much fun,” Workman says. “But I had been told by one of my friends who had been through this before, ‘Your most important thing here is to surround yourself with positivity. Always be around positive people, and keep that positive outlook on yourself, because it’s going to make it easier for you to battle this.’ And that worked, I’m telling you.”
Workman’s return to East Lake this week was an emotional one — not just for her, but for everyone surrounding the club’s maintenance operations who has known her and her husband, Buck (he is the Certified Golf Course Superintendent at Cateechee Golf Club in Hartwell, Ga.), and has known of the vital role they’ve both played in the Georgia golf industry. “There were a few tears shed on Monday morning, and not all of them were mine,” Workman says.
The experiences of the past year have reinforced many of the things Workman held true before her diagnosis. Namely, she thinks — and her doctors concur — that her active lifestyle that includes teaching a recreational kickboxing class better equipped her to deal with the rigors of cancer treatment.
She also believes she received a little spiritual help along the way. “I was telling someone the other day that it’s almost like a peace has come over me, that I feel that maybe I’m here on this earth now to let people know that faith matters and faith works,” Workman says. “You just have to believe.”
Scott Hollister is GCM’s editor-in-chief.