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Gala to benefit Longstreet Clinics annual cancer event
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The Longstreet Clinic’s annual Harvest of Hope event, scheduled this year for 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Oct. 20 at the Northeast Georgia History Center, is always free to anyone who has been affected by cancer.

But in order to make the event accessible to everyone, somebody has to pay for it. That’s where the Harvest of Hope Gala comes in.

The black-tie gala will take place at 6:30 p.m., also on Oct. 20, at the Chattahoochee Country Club. Tickets are $125, with all proceeds benefiting the Harvest of Hope Fund at the North Georgia Community Foundation.

"It will pay for next year’s Harvest of Hope and also help fund upcoming outreach programs on cancer education and awareness, screenings, and eliminating barriers to care," said Jullie King, spokeswoman for the Longstreet Clinic.

The evening also includes fine dining, a silent auction, and entertainment by singer-pianist Lee Alverson, who performs songs of Billy Joel and Elton John (complete with the crazy costumes).

For many people, the highlight of the evening will be the presentation of the Hope Award, given to a person or organization that has "demonstrated extraordinary commitment to those living with cancer." Last year’s recipient was For Her Glory, a local non-profit that helps purchase wigs, prostheses, and other items for patients undergoing cancer treatment.

This year the award is given posthumously to Dr. Robert Jennings Jr., a Gainesville physician who died in May at age 45. A respected orthopedic surgeon, Jennings did not treat cancer patients; he is receiving the award because of the way he lived with cancer himself.

"He said cancer was one of the best things that ever happened to him." said his widow, Eve Jennings, who will accept the award at the gala. "It made him live each day to the fullest. He got thousands of letters and cards from people who said he had made a difference in their lives."

Athletic and seemingly healthy, Dr. Jennings was shocked when a tumor the size of a cantaloupe was discovered in his chest during a routine physical.

"He had no symptoms," Eve Jennings said.

The diagnosis was sobering: neuroendocrine carcinoma, a rare and aggressive cancer. Doctors removed nearly all of the tumor, but it quickly metastasized to his lower back. He traveled to Indiana to receive a new type of treatment, proton beam radiation.

But soon there were further metastases. "Too much to be able to use radiation anymore, so he went back on chemo and enrolled in clinical trials," said Eve Jennings.

"He knew that he couldn’t be cured, but he was trying to buy more time. He had two children, I have three. He wanted to work, and to have a better quality of life."

As time went on, Dr. Jennings had to cut back on his hours in the operating room, though he was still performing surgery just two days before he died.

"He had such a love for what he did," said Eve Jennings. "He knew that if he kept working, he could make a difference in his patients’ lives. I know that a lot of mornings he did not feel like going to work. But afterward, he was glad he did."

Not only did Dr. Jennings continue to treat patients, he also did volunteer work, including throwing himself wholeheartedly into Relay for Life, a fund-raiser for the American Cancer Society. When he died just before this year’s Relay, his widow was able to raise $5,500 in his honor.

Even when the chemo and radiation caused some damage to his heart, Bob Jennings wanted to keep working out at the gym and lifting weights.

"We felt it was a blessing that he died in his sleep," Eve Jennings said. "That was what he had hoped for. He often said, ‘I don’t want you to watch me dwindle.’"

Bob Jennings took what most people would consider the worst negative experience and turned it into a positive.

"He was such a fighter," Eve Jennings said. "But it bothers me to hear people say that he ‘lost his battle with cancer.’ We saw it more as a victory, because it could have been worse. We could have had just one more year (after the diagnosis). Instead, we had five."