The Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce kicked off its HealthSmart Expo Wednesday with a luncheon featuring Barbara Dooley, who proved that even cancer can be a positive experience.
Dooley, wife of famed University of Georgia football coach Vince Dooley, sent a serious message with a humorous approach when she spoke about the importance of early detection and her own battle with breast cancer.
Guests dined on healthy meals like salmon salad and grilled portobello sandwiches while Dooley spoke at the Georgia Mountains Center.
Dooley said she learned she had cancer when she got a call from her doctor on Christmas Eve a few years ago.
"Unless you've ever been told ‘you have cancer,' you cannot imagine how that hits you in the face," Dooley said.
Once she digested the initial news, she had to consider a number of things, such as how to treat her cancer and how to deal with her hair falling out.
"I chose a lumpectomy. Nobody told me that if you chose a mastectomy you'd get a tummy tuck and a boob job," Dooley joked.
But the most important things she realized were how much her friends and family meant to her and how important prayer was to her recovery.
"I want to tell you about prayer, because prayer is so important to health. Prayer centers us. Prayer gives us hope," Dooley said.
She said she realized how much small gestures, like a card or a visit from a friend, can mean when undergoing chemotherapy or radiation.
And her family, especially Vince Dooley, showed how much they really loved her.
"If I'd have known you were this sweet, I'd have gotten cancer years ago," Dooley said she told her husband.
And in that spirit, Dooley capped off her speech by encouraging everyone to tell someone else how much they care about them as she invited everyone to sing along to her favorite song, Stevie Wonder's "I Just Called To Say I Love You."
She urged everyone in attendance to make sure they get regular screenings, especially for common cancers such as breast and prostate cancer.
"If I had waited another year, if I had waited another six months (to get a mammogram) I would not have had the recovery I have," Dooley said.
After the luncheon, the HealthSmart Expo offered a number of health screenings and information free to the public from 1 to 5 p.m.
Robyn Lynch, vice president of membership development for the chamber, said the event was a huge success.
"Everything has been really great," Lynch said. "We had over 200 people in the first 15 minutes."
Lynch said the screenings were popular, and there was a line for flu shots for most of the day.
Cheryl Williams, a registered nurse and certified diabetes educator, said she had helped people realize they were at risk for health problems throughout the event.
"There was one patient today with almost twice the risk for heart disease who had no idea her cholesterol was at such an elevated level," Williams said. "It's been a real eye opening experience for a lot of people today."
The expo also housed about 75 booths with interactive services, information and giveaways about all kinds of health care, from chiropractic to dentistry and everything in between.
Scott Dixon, owner of Scott's on the Square, is a big part of the chamber's efforts to promote healthy living year round. Dixon, along with other local restaurants, will place a sticker by healthy menu items to mark them as "HealthSmart."
"It gives it some longevity," Dixon said, by helping remind people to make healthy food choices year round.
Dixon said he offers healthy options at his restaurant including a vegetarian special every day, and even some vegan options, meaning there are no animal products used in the dish.
"It's all about making good choices," Dixon said.