Ed Grisamore

Gris: Walking the relay walk

Tena Dominy will be going for a walk late Friday afternoon.

It won’t be a trip around the block, a stroll on the beach or a hike along a mountain trail.

She will be among the some 500 cancer survivors making the walk at the start of the annual Bibb County Relay for Life. They will be followed by an estimated 1,500 participants, who are there with a goal of reaching $320,000 in pledges for the American Cancer Society.

Tena isn’t traveling any great distance, just a celebratory lap around the field. Her husband, James, also a cancer survivor, will be at her side.

After all, there is still plenty of work to be done before, during and after the relay, now in its 30th year. She has miles to go before she sleeps.

As the event’s coordinator for the fourth time in the past five years, Tena is a homegrown, hometown hero who volunteers her time and considerable talents without a lot of fanfare.

She made her own pledge to join in the fight against cancer long before she took her first step in a Relay for Life event. It became a personal crusade more than a decade before she or any of her family members were diagnosed with cancer.

After 10 years as an educator and counselor in Jones County, she went to work at Robins Air Force Base, where she became deputy director of information technology and communications.

In 1992, a co-worker was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“It had never been personal up to that point,’’ Tena said. “Every day I saw this young lady going through her treatments. She was in her 30s and had kids. I walked with her on that journey. She lived for two years after her diagnosis. I promised her I didn’t want to see anybody go through that again. I would find some way to fight this.’’

She formed a committee and became chairwoman of the annual Pink Ribbon golf tournaments to benefit the American Cancer Society.

Until then, cancer had always been on the periphery. A fellow employee. A distant relative. An acquaintance.

Then it began hitting closer to home. Her husband. Her sister. Her mother.

“They say if you put four people with cancer in a room, one of the four will not survive,’’ she said. “Of the four in my life -- me, my husband, my mother and my sister -- my mother was that one.’’

Elvie Williams died of colon cancer in 2006. Tena and James would both be diagnosed with cancer over the next two years.

She retired from Robins Air Force Base in 2010 and hit the ground running with Relay for Life. Over the past five years, the only time she hasn’t volunteered as the event leader was in 2013, when she helped with the Relay for Life in Monroe County.

Christ Chapel SportsTowne represents a new venue this year. The Bibb relay began at the Northeast High School track in 1985 and later was moved to Lake Tobesofkee and Al Sihah Shrine Park. At Christ Chapel, organizers have the added flexibility of moving inside in the event of inclement weather.

Another change to this year’s relay is the hours. No longer will the hours be from sundown to sunup. The finish line will come at midnight, with closing ceremonies at 11:30 p.m.

“In the past, when it has been 6 p.m. to 6 a.m., not many people stayed after midnight,’’ Tena said. “Nobody was left in the morning for the closing ceremony.’’

Tena is proud the local chapter of the American Cancer Society was recognized with a national award last year for 100 percent participation from the Bibb County schools. Every Bibb school is on board this year, too.

“The partnership has allowed us to educate young people,’’ she said. “Teachers have been given educational materials. By engaging the schools at that level, we’ve reached a new generation. We’ve also been able to leverage that participation to teach them about community service.’’

The survivors’ walk to open the relay is always emotional. Survivors and caregivers now make the walk in lockstep.

“I have never seen a survivor make the walk alone after being diagnosed with cancer,’’ she said. “I want my husband holding my hand. We have made the walk together.’’