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Harvest of Hope offers more than just information occasion offers support
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Amanda Griffin, coordinator of the International Baccalaureate program at Johnson High School in South Hall, discusses the program and a visit to the school Monday and Tuesday by an IB authorization team.

If you or a family member has cancer, there is nothing more precious than hope.

For the past six years, the Longstreet Clinic has sponsored Harvest of Hope, a free event filled with information and entertainment, for anyone who has been touched by cancer.

This year it takes place from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 20, at the Northeast Georgia History Center. Attendees can take advantage of workshops, exhibits, and screenings, all aimed at either preventing cancer or living well with the disease if you have it.

There’s no charge for anything, including lunch, but advance registration is required. Longstreet Clinic spokeswoman Jullie King said more than 100 people have already registered.

"Many people come back year after year, because there’s something new each time," she said.

No doubt one of the more popular offerings this year will be a morning presentation by Patty Wooten, a "therapeutic humorist" and international speaker.

A nurse for 37 years, Wooten attended clown school in the mid-1970s and began to incorporate humor into patient care. She has worked with Patch Adams, a physician who has promoted the health benefits of humor, and with Norman Cousins, the author who wrote about his attempts to cure his illness through comedy.

"We can’t always control the disease or the symptoms, but we can control our attitude," Wooten said Thursday from her home in California.

"In my presentation, I give people permission to laugh. If you’re able to laugh about your illness, it puts other people at ease, because they often just don’t know what to say," she said.

Wooten then presents the scientific evidence showing that patients who incorporate humor into their treatment have better outcomes.

"When I worked with Norman Cousins, he told me that laughter provided him with a gateway into a myriad of positive emotions," she said. "Research now shows that this improves the immune system."

At noon, Harvest of Hope participants will be serenaded by the Atlanta-based Shades of Pink Breast Cancer Survivors Mass Choir. The group comprises about 80 singers, ages 35 to 75, who have recovered from breast cancer. Some of their songs are composed by choir members and reflect their cancer experience.

There will also be workshops on topics such as nutrition, both during and after cancer, and how to participate in clinical trials.

In between these sessions, visitors can peruse about 20 exhibits sponsored by local medical providers and national pharmaceutical companies.

King said one innovation this year is the "Way to Quit" motivational screening by GlaxoSmithKline, aimed at demonstrating the physiological effects of smoking.

"They can give you a lung function test and a carbon monoxide screening, and also show you a facial age progression (a computer model of how smoking wrinkles the skin)," King said. "Then they will provide counseling on smoking cessation."

King said the goal of Harvest of Hope is to be "entertaining and uplifting, but also informative. We try to connect people with resources in our community and let them know that they can get outstanding care right here in Gainesville."

Dr. Charles Nash, a Longstreet oncologist who has been involved with Harvest of Hope since the beginning, said the event is almost like a family reunion for cancer patients, family members, and the doctors and nurses who help them.

"When you work with cancer patients, you develop long-term relationships," he said. "It’s wonderful that so many survivors come back to this event each year, because they are an inspiration to those who’ve been newly diagnosed. There is a hunger for support and education and community."

And for survivors, it helps them cope with the ways that cancer has changed their lives forever.

"Cancer is like any other major traumatic event. You will always carry the emotional and physical scars," Nash said.