Monday, May 30, 2016


Kale: Taking the first bite

Kale is a nutrient-dense, leafy green vegetable that is a good source of calcium, magnesium and vitamins A, C, E and K. Even with its stellar nutrient profile,  kale does not seem to rank high on the average person’s food preference scale and it is often avoided. Two major reasons for this are that kale and other dark leafy greens have a mild to sharply bitter flavor and traditional methods of cooking them (e.g. steaming and boiling) do not improve meal-time appeal.

There are many ways to improve the appeal of kale. For example, the sourness of citrus juice is a lovely contrast to the bitter undertones of dark green vegetables. Fats from dressings, oils, nuts, seeds and avocados do a wonderful job of masking the bitterness as well. Therefore, I encourage you to try a new way of preparing kale. Simply sauté for a few minutes (with flavorful additions such as onions, garlic, red pepper flakes, kumquats, etc.) or make a massaged kale salad by following the recipe outline below:

• Wash the kale, pat dry, remove stems, and tear the leaves into smaller pieces.
• Add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, a sprinkle of kosher salt (1 tsp/8 cups kale), and massage until kale just begins to wilt.
• Then add: chopped avocado (2 avocados/8 cups kale), a squeeze of lemon juice (1 lemon/8 cups kale), and thinly sliced red onion.
• Massage once more until the avocado becomes a creamy dressing. Leave some chunks of avocado please!
• Season to taste with black pepper and a pinch of cayenne pepper (optional.)

This spring, I demonstrated how to prepare this simple and delicious kale salad at the Know Your Farmer Fair in Windham. The event was a first annual collaboration between nonprofit organizations: GROW Windham and CLICK Inc. Both organizations are rooted in food justice, sustainable agriculture, community outreach, and small business development. During this event, I had the pleasure of meeting a mother and her daughter. The mother hesitated when I offered them a sample of the kale salad. She explained that, despite all of her efforts, her 4-year-old daughter would not try kale.

I explained to her daughter that the kale was made a special way. I asked her if she liked avocados, and she nodded her head. I showed her the avocado pieces in the salad and asked if she would like to try it. She said yes! Later, mom and daughter returned for the recipe and information about the farm who generously donated the kale.

Children (and adults alike) can be very particular about the food they eat. In addition to flavor, texture and overall mouth feel are very important things to pay attention to. For example, a child might not like the soft, moist texture of cooked broccoli but he or she might eat an entire bowl of crunchy raw broccoli with his or her favorite dressing. Another way to encourage children to try new foods is to use different cooking methods and pair new foods with their favorites. Also consider having your children help you in the kitchen.

Research shows that children who are more active in food selection and preparation will be more likely to try new foods. Food avoidance is often more than a generic dislike of the food itself. It is often a reflection of a child’s desire to be independent and to make their own food choices. So give your child the opportunity to have an active role in food selection and preparation by asking them to help you choose a recipe, and also to help you find the ingredients in the grocery store. Make it a scavenger hunt!

If you decide to take this step please understand that there are many factors that can contribute to a child’s eating behaviors. Children are very observant and learn food behaviors from parents, siblings, and other role models. Attention parents and guardians: If you want your children to be adventurous and try new, healthful foods, you need to be adventurous too!

Brenda Viens is a registered dietitian at Backus Hospital and Thames Valley Council for Community Action. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Viens or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, May 23, 2016


Pet therapy: Healing methods that have gone to the dogs

Pet therapy isn’t just fun, fur and games. According to the Mayo Clinic, interaction with a gentle, friendly pet can result in many physical health benefits such as:

• lowering blood pressure
• releasing endorphins (oxytocin) that have a calming effect
• diminishing overall physical pain
• producing an automatic relaxation response from the act of petting, reducing the amount of medication some folks need.

There are also many emotional health benefits:

• lifting spirits and lessening depression
• decreasing feelings of isolation and alienation
• encouraging communication
• providing comfort
• increasing socialization
• reducing boredom
• lowering anxiety
• helping children overcome speech and emotional disorders
• creating motivation for a person to recover faster

On their website, the risks of pet therapy have been addressed. The biggest concern, particularly in hospitals, is safety and sanitation. Most hospitals and other facilities that use pet therapy have stringent rules to ensure that the animals are clean, vaccinated, well-trained and screened for appropriate behavior.

It's also important to note that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has never received a report of infection from animal-assisted therapy.

My friend Fran Poris volunteers in the Center for Healthcare Integration (CHI) at Backus Hospital. I asked her to share a little about her experiences as a certified pet therapist.

“I was a special education teacher for 37 years. In my last year of teaching, I brought my Bearded Collie puppy Quincy (named after a former student) to school with me so my fifth graders could read to him. The program was so popular that all the fifth graders, not only my students, wanted a chance to read to him.”

“Quincy and I have volunteered at schools, libraries, nursing homes, Center for Hospice Care and at Backus Hospital. When I clip Quincy’s nametag and blue leash onto his collar he knows it is time to work.”

“There are places Quincy likes to visit more than others. One of those places is Backus Hospital. Quincy can hardly wait to jump out of the car when he sees where we are going and his tail wags enthusiastically. He loves when people pet him, talk to him and scratch his back. Quincy, being motivated by food, loves when patients give him treats that I provide for him. The first year that we volunteered, I brought dog treats for patients to give him and Quincy gained 10 pounds! Now I bring kibble from his dinner and that works equally well.”

“People often think that pet therapy is just for patients. Not so. Quincy makes doctors, nurses, staff and visitors feel happy as well. Many people have told me that we made their day with our visit. Patients too ill to talk often place their hands on Quincy’s head to pet him or just smile when they see him next to their beds. Patients who have pets at home are especially grateful for a visit from Quincy. They miss their pets and tell me stories about their animals.”

“Just like people have their favorites, so does Quincy. He has even formed bonds with favorite patients. He enthusiastically wags his tail and snuggles up to his favorites waiting for a scratch behind his ears or on his back,” Poris said.

It’s hard not to smile at that image. It helps us to visualize man’s best friend as a healer with paws and fur.

Alice Facente is a community health education nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, May 16, 2016


Therapy that’s music to our ears

Haven’t we all had the experience of listening to music and suddenly sensing a change in our mood? I’m sure all of us can recall feeling a flood of emotions when hearing a song associated with a joyful, exciting, or even sorrowful time in our life.

When you think about it, we have all been engaging in a form of therapy in our lives — music therapy — in a variety of ways. We listen to music in our cars, during commutes to work, at the doctor’s office, in waiting rooms, while shopping in stores, performing household chores, and more. Personally, I could never keep up with the mandate for daily exercise if I didn’t have music to accompany me on the treadmill. And music is at the core of the increasingly popular Jazzercise and Zumba exercise programs.

According to WebMD, music therapy is the use of music to gain physical and emotional healing and wellness. This can involve listening to music, music-making, or both. Some of the health benefits associated with music therapy are:

• Reducing stress
• Easing anxiety
• Decreasing depression
• Promoting relaxation
• Increasing concentration
• Boosting immune system
• Decreasing blood pressure
• Elevating mood
• Alleviating pain
• Helping express feeling

There are numerous studies detailing the effect of music on children with autism spectrum disorders, on infant development, management of the pain associated with childbirth, cancer, burn treatment, physical rehab, to reduce discomfort during dialysis, and to promote sleep.

In older adults with Alzheimer's, dementia, and other mental disorders, research suggests that music therapy can reduce aggressive or agitated behavior, reduce symptoms of dementia, improve mood, and improve cooperation with daily tasks, such as bathing.

As always, check with your health care provider before adding or substituting a complementary or alternative therapy like music therapy to your conventional treatment regimen.

Alice Facente is a community health education nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, May 09, 2016


From one nurse to another

There are almost 3 million nurses practicing in the United States today, so chances are you or someone in your family has chosen this profession. Most nurses would agree that it is a privilege to travel with patients on their healthcare journeys. I asked a few of my nurse friends and colleagues to share some of the things they have learned in their nursing career.

Jessica Vanase, Backus Breast Care Navigator Nurse said, “People trust nurses. A lot. The trust that patients put in your hands is an enormous responsibility, and you have to be on your game every day you work.” She also said, “The best thing I can do is teach a patient how to advocate for themselves, find legitimate information, and take charge of their own health conditions.”

Lisa Bazinet, Eastern Region Manager of Cancer Care Services, said, “Being a nurse is really, really hard work. It’s not like an episode of ER or Grey’s Anatomy. You often see the nurses in these shows on break or in the cafeteria. That is the Hollywood version of nursing. Nurses are never in the cafeteria sipping coffee or on break. It never happens.”

Another important point Lisa wanted to make is, “It’s OK to cry if your patient dies. Many of us were taught not to get too close to your patient — ‘it’s unprofessional — keep your distance.’ I feel differently. Having that emotional connection with that patient and their family makes their loved one feel special and cared for- not merely a diagnosis or a room number. Making these special connections is why I became a nurse in the first place. There’s nothing more rewarding than making that difference in the lives of people in need!”

Liz Fracchia, an APRN at Backus Hospital told me, “Kindness always matters; whether it’s appreciated or not doesn’t matter.” Her advice for new nurses is, “Always do the right thing for your patients, for your family, and for yourself. If you follow this rule you will never regret it.”

All of the nurses I surveyed felt that injecting humor into healthcare encounters can be positive and promote healing. “Laughter is the best medicine” seems to be a common theme. Lori Surber, Breast Cancer Nurse Navigator at Windham Hospital shared some very humorous insights. She said, “I have become the best co-pilot for road trips since nurses are known to be able to go without using the restroom for an entire 12 hour shift.”

Amy Dunion, Director of the Center for Healthcare Integration (CHI) agrees: “Humor goes a long way, but love goes all the way.” Always the optimist, Amy also adds, “You never know when something miraculous is going to happen.”

Nurses have many roles, all with varying challenges that we must meet on a daily basis. But providing comprehensive quality healthcare requires enormous team effort; from patients, doctors, nurses, medical assistants, dietitians, aides, respiratory and physical therapists, lab and x-ray techs, pharmacists, and many more. A smart nurse values and acknowledges the importance of every other member of the team.

Most of us love being a nurse and couldn’t imagine being anything else. National Nurses Week is May 6-12 this year, a time to pause and celebrate the nurses in your life. I am proud to a part of the nursing profession and concur with Nurse Amy Dunion as she declares, “We’re all in this together.”

Alice Facente is a community health education nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, May 02, 2016


Use your head for bicycle safety

Let’s face it —there are few things more fun for children than riding a bicycle. It offers freedom, fun and fresh air exercise. Since we all want to keep kids as safe as possible, here are some basic safety tips we should all be aware of:

• Always wear a properly fitting helmet.
Ride on the right side of the road in the same direction as traffic. Go with the flow, not against it.
• Always ride with both hands on the handlebars. Carry books and other items in a bicycle carrier or backpack, not in your arms.
Avoid riding at night. It makes sense that it’s more dangerous riding at night because of the inability to be seen by others. Wear clothes that reflect light and are easily seen in daytime, dusk, dawn, nighttime, or foul weather.
Observe rules of the road. Don’t ride into a street without stopping, swerve into traffic that is coming from behind, or run stop signs.

According to Safe Kids Worldwide, more children ages 5 to 14 are seen in emergency rooms for injuries related to biking than any other sport. Helmets can reduce the risk of severe brain injuries by 88 percent — yet only 45 percent of children 14 and under usually wear a bike helmet. On their website, they have a simple saying: "Use your head, wear a helmet." It is the single most effective safety device available to reduce head injury and death from bicycle crashes.

Actually, it’s not just children; everyone, regardless of age or cycling experience, needs to wear a helmet every time we ride.

I asked my friend and colleague Renee Malaro, RN, Backus Hospital’s Trauma Program Manager to shed some light on the issue of bike safety. I was hoping she would be able to say she has not encountered many bicycle-related injuries in the ER, but sadly that’s not the case.

Renee says that according KidsHealth roughly 300,000 kids go to the emergency department every year due to bike related injuries and this area is certainly not immune to this statistic. There are accidents and there are predictable events, and unfortunately it is easy to predict that every year we will receive patients with bicycle related injuries, she says. Of these injuries the most severe cases often include head injuries that may cause significant brain injury resulting in a need for hospitalization, life altering changes of daily routine or even worse death.

“What cannot be predicted is whether while riding a bicycle control will be lost due to going downhill, hitting an object on the road, sidewalk or path that is being ridden, or if that vehicle may not be able to stop in time if they happen to see you coming into the road. I urge every parent to ensure your children know the safety tips for riding safely and model the behavior that may save your life as well. I cannot agree more and think it is worth repeating that helmet use is the single most effective way to reduce bicycle-related fatalities as Safe Kids Worldwide suggests,” Renee says.

Renee is coordinating the 12th annual Backus Safety Camp on Saturday, May 14, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. in the Backus Hospital parking lot. Representatives from the police, fire, ambulance, health departments and more will be on hand to talk about safety in a fun and interactive event. Kids will be fitted for free bicycle helmets while supplies last. All are welcome.

I recently saw a big gentleman sporting a T-shirt with a great slogan, also appropriate for the Safety Camp: “All bikers big and small, biking safety is for all.”

Alice Facente is a community health education nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, April 25, 2016


The hard truth about energy drinks

I won’t be winning any popularity contests with this topic, but let’s go ahead and talk about energy drinks.

It’s hard to believe how popular they are – you can find them at the checkout counter of every convenience store, grocery store, gas station, and of course, on the internet.

Energy drinks are beverages that contain large doses of caffeine and/or non-caffeine stimulants. They are used to increase energy, enhance mood, and delay sleep.

They are definitely not harmless, as many people seem to believe. Here is an example. I was conducting a free blood pressure screening at a community fair and a young 33-year-old man asked me to check his blood pressure. The result was the highest of the day: 165/104. When I asked him if he had any history of hypertension or heart disease, he denied any knowledge of it.

Upon further probing, he admitted he had just finished a 5-hour energy drink, something he did at least once daily. When I explained how unhealthy energy drinks were, his response was, “Then why do they sell them?” My reply was, “Because people will buy them. They sell cigarettes, don’t they?” Of course, there may be more health issues involved with this young man, but it was certainly an eye-opener for him.

The issue becomes even more concerning when young children are involved. Poison control data show energy drinks and young kids don’t mix. More than 40 percent of 5,156 calls about energy drinks to U.S. poison control centers involved children younger than 6, with some suffering serious cardiac and neurological symptoms, according to a study presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2014. That’s an alarming statistic.

Many people don’t realize stimulants in energy drinks may have other names which are less recognizable than caffeine. Look for these ingredients on the label:

Caffeine stimulants:
• Methylxanthines
• Theine
• Mateine
• Guaranine/Guarana
• Methyltheobromine
• Methyltheophylline

Non-caffeine stimlulants:
• Ginseng
• Ma-huang
• Ephedra
• Other ephedra-like substances

Symptoms of caffeine poisoning may include: nausea, vomiting, nervousness, tremor, insomnia, restlessness, delirium, sweating, headache, seizures, and increased heart rhythm. Seek medical attention for these symptoms. The Poison Control Center hotline number is 1-800-222-1222.

Alternatives to energy drinks include fruit juices, decaffeinated green tea, and low-fat milk. But hands down, the healthiest choice for a beverage is water. No calories, no preservatives, no fat, no sugar, and especially no caffeine. For those who dislike the taste of water, I suggest squeezing a few drops of lemon or lime juice to make it more palatable.

Bring a reusable water bottle wherever you go and avoid energy drinks...and be kind to your heart.

Alice Facente is a community health education nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, April 18, 2016


Personal safety should be everyone's goal

Since our daughter and her family moved to the San Francisco area years ago, we have traveled to that fascinating city many times to visit them. They love the city life and are very savvy when it comes to negotiating public transportation like Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) or the maze of city streets.

I am not so savvy. Several times my daughter cautioned me not to gaze up at the skyscrapers looking like a distracted wanderer. She reminded me there are personal safety ideas that everyone should be aware of, not just city dwellers or visitors.

When I returned home I decided to ask for some basic personal safety tips from Dave Guiher, the Hartford HealthCare East Region Public Safety Manager. His advice:

• Be mindful of your surroundings.
• Stay in well-lighted areas.
• Walk confidently, projecting an assertive, purposeful image.
• Keep your purse close to your body, and hold it tight. If it has a long strap it's even better to place it diagonally across your body, with the purse under your arm. Close all zippers and clasps.
• Keep your cell phone handy in your pocket, but don't walk around using it.
• Avoid walking alone at night, and walk or travel with a friend during the day, if possible.
• If you are ever confronted by a person who you fear will attack you, run away, yell for help, scream, “Get away from me!” — do whatever you can to attract attention. If the person is after your purse or other material items, throw them one way while you run the other.

Be careful and mindful of these tips all the time and it will soon become second nature. Then you can relax and enjoy all of the unique experiences community life has to offer, whether in an urban, suburban, or country setting.

Alice Facente is a community health education nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, April 11, 2016


Local child leaves legacy of love

A wise physician once said, “The best medicine for humans is love.” Someone asked, “What if it doesn’t work?” He just smiled and said, “Increase the dose.” That’s a wonderful sentiment, and good words to live by, but we all know that sometimes love is just not enough —medically speaking.

Many of us are well aware of Maddie Guarraia, a brave and courageous 9-year old girl who battled cancer for five years, and died on Wednesday morning. She was an inspiration to thousands of people who never met her. Her mother Amie’s Facebook page, “Mad About Madeline,” garnered more than 25,000 followers. Her mother chronicled her journey as she fought leukemia like a warrior. Her mother frequently posted pictures, always of a smiling Maddie, surrounded by her beloved family and friends. She had an infectious smile that was like a mega-dose of anti-depressant.

Maddie brought the community together in an outpouring of support that most of us have never seen before. I never had the opportunity to meet Maddie, but like so many others, I felt that she touched my life by witnessing her bravery and courage. Maddie was fighting for her life, but was always thinking of others with a kind and generous spirit. For example, Maddie’s wish was that people would collect toys to donate to children battling illnesses at Yale-New Haven Hospital. More than 70 organizations and businesses from Niantic to Rhode Island participated in “Madeline’s Wish Toy Drive.” That was quite a feat, considering the current economic climate.

She was the motivation to conduct several bone marrow drives in the community to combat childhood cancers. The Waterford Police Department made her an honorary police officer, Badge #8, and the whole department truly loved and supported this young girl.

Her mother made a request on Facebook to share how Madeline has impacted your life. The response was overwhelming. Almost 1,000 people responded with stories of how witnessing Maddie’s brave struggle provided the impetus to withstand a difficulty in their own life. Strangers declared their love and devotion to this courageous girl —and that was just the impact documented through Facebook. Who knows how widespread beyond social media boundaries her positive influence really was?

She gave her love freely and made a profound and lasting impact to so many. People said she made them “smile more, complain less.” Nine-year old Maddie made more of an impact on the emotional health of thousands than I have made in 40 years of nursing. Come to think of it, maybe that wise physician was right after all — a good dose of love from a 9-year old girl might be the best medicine for us all.

Alice Facente is a community health education nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, April 04, 2016


All you have to to is say “Ahhhh”

“Something just doesn’t feel right when I swallow.” That's what my old college friend kept saying. We were planning a trip to Europe with our husbands and really didn’t want any health issues to foil our plans. But Grace wisely followed up on her instincts. She repeated her complaint and her primary care physician listened, investigated her symptoms, and ordered some tests. The shocking news was that Grace had thyroid cancer.

Dr. William Culviner is a board certified ear, nose and throat specialist and surgeon in private practice with Eastern Connecticut Ear, Nose & Throat, P.C. with offices in Norwich, Willimantic and Colchester. I asked him to shed some light on the incidence of head and neck cancers. Frankly, I thought they were a fairly rare form of cancer.

Oral, head and neck cancer is a type of cancer that can be found in the mouth, including the tongue, throat, lips, voice box and salivary glands, as well as the sinuses, nasal cavity and thyroid. It is the sixth most common form of cancer in the world with over 100,000 cases diagnosed annually in the United States alone.

Eighty-five percent of head and neck cancers are linked to tobacco and alcohol use, and people who use both are at a higher risk for developing these cancers than alcohol or tobacco use alone. Thyroid cancers are often related to family history or exposure to radiation although they can develop in anyone. Cancer of the lip can be caused by excessive sun exposure and adults over 40 are at an increased risk.

Over the past decade there has been at least a four- to five-fold increase in the number of oropharynx cancers in the United States, related to Human Papilloma Virus (HPV). The oropharynx includes the tonsils and the base of the tongue. Notably, physicians have recently seen a significant increase in oropharyngeal cancer related to HPV in younger (college age) patients.

Many times a patient has no signs or symptoms of cancer, although some report changes in the way the tissues inside of the mouth look or feel. Others have persistent pain in the mouth or a sore that won’t go away or sometimes gets larger. Discolored patches or lumps inside the mouth, thickening of the cheek, difficulty swallowing, jaw pain, tongue numbness, bad breath and voice changes can also be associated with oral cancer.

Persistent symptoms should be evaluated by a health care professional. A painless screening examination of your head and neck should be performed during your annual physical by your primary care physician or allied health professional or during a dental cleaning. Most of the time, these symptoms are not an indication of cancer, but it’s important to have them checked out since treatment is more successful when caught early.

Fortunately, Dr. Culviner and his associates are once again providing two head and neck cancer screenings that are free and open to the community. On Thursday, April 14, screenings will be given in the Windham Hospital Family Health Center (Second Floor) at 5 Founders St., in Willimantic, from 11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Appointments are required and can be made by calling 855-HHC-HERE or 855-442-4373. And, on April 15, screenings will be held in the Backus Hospital main lobby conference rooms from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., but you can just walk in; no appointments are needed for the event at Backus.

My friend Grace subsequently went ahead with the surgery and chemotherapy and I am happy to report she has been declared cancer-free. She missed our trip, but probably saved her life. Not surprisingly, she is a big advocate of following through on your instincts and getting screened. All you have to do is just say “Ahhhhh.”

Alice Facente is a community health education nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, March 28, 2016


The lowdown on Reiki therapy

“Do you know what Reiki therapy is?” I asked five people this question, and these are the answers I received: “Not really...” “I think it has something to do with pressure points...” “I’ve heard of it...” “No, what is it?” and “I have no idea.”

I must confess I didn’t know that much about Reiki, either, except it is rapidly growing in popularity.

Reiki (pronounced “RAY-KEE”) means “universal life energy” and is an ancient Japanese healing method that connects with the energy flow in and around the body. According to WebMD, it is thought that Reiki releases energy flow and allows the body's own natural healing ability to work.

Reiki focuses on seven main energy centers in your body called chakras The energy should flow freely through your chakras in order for you to be spiritually, physically, and mentally healthy. Practitioners believe that if energy paths are blocked, you may feel ill or weak or have pain.

People use Reiki to decrease tension, improve sleep, enhance healing, and relieve pain. Practitioners do not claim it can cure or treat cancer, but can complement traditional treatments by relieving some of the pain, stress and nausea associated with cancer and other diseases.

Kay Weiler is a Reiki Master Practitioner and volunteers at the Center for Healthcare Integration (CHI) at Backus Hospital. I asked her to share some testimonials from people who have undergone Reiki treatment. Instead of telling me secondhand, Kay had just finished giving a treatment to a woman and asked if she would talk to me about her experience. Connie was happy to do so.

Connie is undergoing comprehensive cancer treatment, but about once a week she has a Reiki session, as a complement to her regular treatment. Connie said, “Reiki keeps me going, and is an integral part of my healing.” She told her oncologist, “I am more open to healing with Reiki.” She contends, “It is the most relaxing thing you can do for yourself. I crave these sessions like people crave a glass of water.” Connie feels a real connection to Kay during these sessions and maintains, “Reiki practitioners like Kay put their heart and soul into it.”

When I asked Kay to explain a little more about how Reiki works, she offered to give me a short Reiki session. I admit I was skeptical. Fortunately I don’t have any pain or discomfort, so I didn’t see how I could feel any benefit from a Reiki session. Kay just smiled and asked if I had any stress in my life. Sold. She took me into the relaxation space where the soft lighting and décor is instantly calming. Kay’s voice is soft and soothing, and I felt the tension literally melt away with her guided imagery. I was a convert. Just like Connie said, it’s one of the most relaxing things you can do for yourself.

The Integrative Therapy room is located inside the Radiation Therapy Department of the HHC Cancer Institute at Backus Hospital, so it’s understood that Reiki and other alternative therapies are an adjunct to conventional cancer treatments, but it bears repeating: Reiki is not a substitute for conventional medical treatment; it is a supplement that may enhance its effect.

It was great to have first-hand experience with Reiki. Now I think I need to interview the practitioners for Reflexology and Massage therapy.

Alice Facente is a community health education nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, March 21, 2016


A few words about no one’s favorite subject — a colonoscopy

“The colonoscopy isn’t so bad; it’s the prep that’s so horrible.” Every healthcare provider has heard that cry countless times from patients. Gastroenterology specialists are always trying to make the preparation for the procedure easier and more acceptable, but the bottom line is a colonoscopy is still the best way to get screened for colon cancer.

Here are some startling facts about the disease, from the Colon Cancer Alliance:

• It is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States.
• It affects men and women equally.
• 75 percent of people diagnosed have no family history.
• It mostly affects people over age 50, but can occur at any age.

Colon cancer often has no symptoms; but it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider if you do experience the following symptoms:

• Change in bowel habits
• Diarrhea, constipation, vomiting
• Unexplained weight loss
• Constant tiredness
• Blood in stool
• Gas, bloating, fullness, cramps

On March 31, two clinicians from Connecticut GI, Dr. You Sung Sang, and APRN Jeannine Hampton, will present a free community education program, “Let’s Talk About Colonoscopies. Really.” They will speak about the importance of having a colonoscopy to screen for colon cancer, and also about the “dreaded prep.” They will also discuss some modifications that are available. You can call (855) HHC-HERE if you would like to register for this event.

Katie Couric brought much-needed attention to the seriousness of this disease when she spoke openly on the loss of her beloved husband Jay to colon cancer at the age of 42. She actually underwent a colonoscopy procedure on national TV, all in an effort to show people how important this screening is. Ms. Couric urges people, “If detected early, there is a 90% cure rate for colon cancer. Get screened so the people you love can love you for a long, long time.”

For more information about colon cancer, visit

Alice Facente is a community health education nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, March 14, 2016


Dealing with illness? Don’t go it alone

For anyone coping with a serious illness, the sense of being alone can be both frightening and overwhelming. Well-meaning friends and family may offer support, but there’s nothing like sharing the journey with someone who truly understands what you’re going through. That’s where support groups can be a real lifesaver.

Support groups can help patients connect with others going through similar experiences, learn new ways to cope with particular challenges, and, quite simply, provide relief from knowing you’re not alone. Need proof? Studies have shown that participation in support groups helps eases depression and anxiety while increasing quality of life and coping abilities.

I spoke with Barbara Sinko, a medical social worker who has worked here at Backus for 27 years, about the benefits of support groups. She has hosted various support groups at Backus, including the upcoming Breast Cancer Support Group starting on April 19. “Support groups offer complete acceptance. It’s a safe place where patients can say things they wouldn’t say to a family member,” she explains. “They’re talking to people who have gone through the same thing, which makes a big difference.”

Besides a safe place to share, what are some other reasons to join a support group? “Empowerment,” says Barbara. “You can learn a lot about your illness, how to ask questions at your doctor appointments, and what to expect. For example, at our breast cancer support groups, we have members at every stage of the journey—from the newly diagnosed to people in active treatment to survivors. Watching these women share their stories and learn from each other is incredible. I’ve seen the birth of many friendships at these groups.”

For people who are unsure or nervous about joining a support group, Barbara shares, “I tell people to just give it a shot. Try coming to a group at least two or three times before making up your mind. Support groups may not be for everyone, but pretty much everyone can walk away having gained something. We can’t change your diagnosis or treatment, but we can all learn from and support one another.”

And when it comes to support groups, there’s something for everybody. If you don’t like the idea of face-to-face support groups or if transportation is an issue, online support groups may be more your speed. For example, offers free online support groups lead by social workers who specialize in cancer. Whatever support group you join, make sure it helps empower and uplift you. If it doesn’t, don’t give up—look for another group that suits your needs.

For those of you who like the idea of meeting in person, your local hospitals and community centers are good places to seek out support groups. At Backus, we’re offering a monthly Breast Cancer Support Group starting April 19 from 4:30-5:30 p.m. in main lobby conference room 2. It’s free and we’d love to see you there. You can call 889-8331, ext. 3870 for more information. Visit and click on “Health & Wellness” and then “Classes & Events” to find support groups in your area, or call 1-855-HHC-HERE. Remember: you are not alone! Get the support you need for a happier, healthier life.

Jessica Vanase is the Backus Breast Cancer Nurse Navigator. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Vanase or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, March 07, 2016


Honesty is crucial in health care

When people in my parents' generation went to the doctor, whatever the doctor said was needed for their health was accepted without question. If the doctor said, "You need to have surgery" or "I’m writing a prescription for you to start insulin injections," you did it. It was that simple.

These days it's not so simple. People search the Internet for the latest medical news. Researching their symptoms on-line, they come prepared to discuss, and sometimes challenge their primary care provider (PCP) about treatment options. Being knowledgeable is great, but self-diagnosing and self-treating is not so great. It’s often better to come for a visit with your symptoms in hand, not your diagnosis. That is not to say don’t be afraid to relate your fears as well.

Honesty is needed on both sides. Your PCP needs to know vital information like how much alcohol you drink, if you smoke and how much, any medication you take — legal or illegal — and about your sexual history. An accurate history of these activities is crucial for the PCP to assess and determine a safe treatment plan for you. Don't be embarrassed and hide or keep secrets about any habits or activities you take participate in . You really can't shock the doctor; believe me when I say there is nothing he or she hasn't seen or heard before.

On the other hand, your doctor needs to be honest with you, too. This can be difficult if the doctor has bad news to deliver. It might take time to process the information. He or she needs to inform you of your diagnosis and all of the available options for treatment, so you can make an informed decision. This is difficult if you don’t agree with the doctor’s recommendation and action plan. Shared decision making may be needed to reach a satisfactory compromise. Perhaps the most important thing is to be sure you understand what you are being told and if you don’t, ask more questions.

Working together honestly and cooperatively offers the opportunity to significantly improve your quality of life and health status. And isn’t that everyone’s goal?

Alice Facente is a community health education nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, February 29, 2016


The importance of laughter in our lives

The incomparable comedienne Carol Burnett was asked during an interview by Amy Spencer for Parade magazine, "How do you want to be remembered?" Her reply? "That I made somebody laugh when they needed it. That at one point, when they needed it, I made them forget — even if it is for just 10 seconds — that they were hurting." I thought that was a kind and generous life objective. Carol Burnett, also known as the “First Lady of Laughter,” is no stranger to sorrow and pain, as one of her beloved daughters died of cancer at age 35.

In no way am I suggesting that humor can overcome grief, or that laughter should replace tears. It's important to grieve the loss of a loved one, and unresolved grief will inevitably result in problems in the future.

My friend and colleague, HHC East Region Director of Pastoral Services Rev. Mary Horan tells us, “Laughter and crying often go together. They are both cathartic responses. A good cry, a hearty laugh can dispel anxiousness and fear and leave us feeling more relaxed, open and ready to see things from a slightly different perspective. A sense of humor in any situation can reveal both the seriousness and absurd possibilities which allows us to cleanse our body of distressing emotions and regain balance. The language of laughter connects us in an intimate way and it feels good!”

At my own father’s funeral many years ago, there is one thing that I remember distinctly from that sad time. Two of my cousins were toddlers and were laughing and giggling and playing during the memorial service. It was a very welcome relief from all of the tears being shed. It kept things in perspective. My father would have been pleased to see us having a memorial that included children’s laughter and the retelling of funny stories about him.

Humor and laughter can have healing powers. There is scientific evidence that laughter can lower cortisol levels and increase the production of dopamine, endorphins, T-cells and immune proteins. These changes may contribute to the following: a decrease in feelings of stress, depression and anxiety, and makes challenges seem more surmountable. Now with all that at stake, who couldn’t benefit from a good dose of humor?

Alice Facente is a community health education nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, February 22, 2016


Celebrating our amazing hearts

The human heart is truly an amazing organ. It beats about 100,000 times a day, sending 2,000 gallons of blood surging through the body. That translates to 2.5 billion heart beats in an average lifetime. It starts to beat about 4 weeks after conception, and of course, keeps on beating until we die.

In simple terms, the heart is a pump made up of muscle tissue. The heart's pumping action is regulated by an electrical conduction system that coordinates the contraction of the various chambers of the heart. But the rhythm of this amazing organ can sometimes go awry.

For example, atrial fibrillation (A-fib) is the most common type of cardiac arrhythmia. It occurs when there are too many electrical signals that normally control the heartbeat, causing the upper chambers of the heart (the atria) to beat extremely rapidly (more than 400 beats per minute) and quiver (fibrillate). This is felt as an always irregular, sometimes rapid heartbeat.

Dr. John Foley, a cardiologist with Hartford Healthcare Medical Group, treats people with cardiovascular diseases, usually with medication.

When heart rhythm disturbances don’t respond to medication and the usual treatments, Dr. Foley will refer that patient to an electrophysiology cardiologist, a specialist in the treatment of electrical cardiac conduction problems. I had never even heard of these specialists until my daughter encountered some very unusual heart rhythm disturbances and was referred to one.

Dr. Foley and Dr. Steven Zweibel, an electrophysiology cardiologist with Hartford Health Care, will be co-presenting an interesting community education program about heart disease and atrial fibrillation on Feb. 24 at Backus Hospital. Call (855) HHC-HERE for information and to register.

February is National Heart Month. We probably don’t think about our hearts very often, so let’s make a special effort this month to appreciate this amazing, hard-working, vital part of our body.

Alice Facente is a community health education nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, February 15, 2016


Is it Alzheimer’s or just forgetfulness?

How many times have you forgotten something important and wondered, "Am I getting Alzheimer's disease?" That happens to me often, and I always blame it on getting older. But the truth is that Alzheimer's is not a normal part of aging. I asked Kristine Johnson, Director of the Alzheimer's Association of Eastern Connecticut how we can tell the difference between normal forgetfulness as we age and Alzheimer's. She referred me to their website: where I found "10 Early Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer's."

One of the most common warning signs is memory loss, especially forgetting recently learned information. Others include forgetting important dates or events, or asking the same information over and over again. It was reassuring for me to learn that a typical age-related change is sometimes forgetting names or appointments, but remembering them later.

Early detection of Alzheimer’s does give the patient the ability to explore treatments that can provide some relief of symptoms and help them maintain a level of independence longer. Early detection also increases the chances the patient will be able to participate in clinical drug trials that help advance research. Dr. Max Okasha, Medical Director of Comprehensive Psychiatric Care in Norwich, has been conducting research on treatments for Alzheimer's for several years now. He believes about 90% of what we know about Alzheimer's has been discovered in the last 15 years; and he’s excited about a promising new treatment in late stage clinical trials. Dr. Okasha and Kristine will be co-presenters of a community education program at Backus Hospital on Tuesday, Feb. 23, focusing on early warning signs, early detection benefits and current research. You can call (855) HHC-HERE to register or for more information.

I reviewed the 10 warning signs and concluded that my forgetfulness is indeed a normal age-related change, not Alzheimer's. After reviewing, if you notice any of the signs in yourself or someone you know, don't ignore them. Schedule an appointment with your primary care provider for an evaluation.

Alice Facente is a community health education nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, February 08, 2016


Heart smart: Facts about the body's most important muscle

February is National Heart Month, the perfect time to learn about some fascinating and fun facts about our hearts.

• The average heart beats 70 times per minute, or 100,000 times per day, or 37,000,000 times each year.

• The first heart pacemakers plugged into a wall socket.

• Our heart is a well-coordinated machine. The right side pumps blood into our lungs while the left side pumps it back into the body.

• Modesty prompted the invention of the stethoscope. Before it existed, doctors had to put their ears directly on the patient’s chest to hear the heart. (Source:

• The heart starts beating about four weeks after conception and doesn’t stop until death.

• A woman’s heart generally beats faster than a man’s: about 78 times compared to 70 times per minute for men.

• Prolonged lack of sleep can cause irregular jumping heartbeats called premature ventricular contractions (PVCs).

• The human heart can create enough pressure that it could squirt blood at a distance of 30 feet.

• Just in time for Valentine’s Day, here is a romantic fact: A University of California at Davis study has shown that couples breathe at the same rate and have synchronized heart beats. In the study, couples were connected to heart rate and respiration monitors as they went through several exercises without touching or speaking to each other. The couples' heart and breathing rates tended to be synchronized, indicating that romantically involved couples are linked on a physiological level.

I asked Dr. John Foley, a cardiologist in Hartford HealthCare Medical Group in Norwich, to verify these facts for me, and to add any interesting information he would like us to know. Here is his contribution to the fascinating facts about our hearts:

• Life expectancy in the USA is 78.8 years

• In 2014, we spent $3 trillion on healthcare on healthcare in the United States. Cardiovascular disease is the largest expenditure of Medicare dollars.

• On average, we spend $9,523 per person in the United States on healthcare.

Dr. Foley will be presenting several community education programs about Heart Disease and Atrial Fibrillation (A-Fib). For information about the dates and locations of these programs, call 855-HHC-HERE (855-442-4373).

Let’s all make a promise to take care of our hearts starting this February, and work toward a goal of increasing that life expectancy statistic to at least 80 years.

Alice Facente is a community health education nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, February 01, 2016


The benefits of optimism are real

“An optimist is someone who falls off the Empire State Building, and after 50 floors says, 'So far, so good!' ” — Anonymous

That quote may make us laugh, but there are true benefits of being an optimist, according to recent research studies.

Researcher Shane Lopez and colleagues at the University of Kansas analyzed data from the Gallup World Poll, which included 150,000 people from 142 countries. Data included responses to questions about life satisfaction, expectations for what the future holds, positive and negative emotions and physical health. The researchers found that 89 percent of people involved in the poll said they believed their future was going to be good or better than their current situation, and most had a "glass half-full" mentality.

Positive thinking and optimism have many proven benefits, including stress management, improved performance and productivity, and superior overall health.

Stress management expert Elizabeth Scott, MS, writes that “Optimists tend to experience less stress than pessimists or realists. Because they believe in themselves and their abilities, they expect good things to happen. They see negative events as minor setbacks to be easily overcome, and view positive events as evidence of further good things to come.”

Always the skeptic, I kept trying to find out exactly why optimists have superior overall health. I found one possible explanation — one that makes sense to me. Julia Boehm, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Harvard School of Public Health co-authored a scientific review of this exact question: is optimism linked to a healthier heart, and why?

According to Dr. Boehm, “The evidence suggests that people who are happy and optimistic are more likely to engage in healthy behaviors, like doing physical activity, eating healthy foods and getting enough sleep. It also shows an association between positivity and measurable biological factors, like lower blood pressure and healthier lipid profiles.”

Well, that makes sense, but is it anything new? We have been told all along that engaging in healthy behaviors like eating healthy food, getting enough sleep, and exercising was exactly what we all need to do to maximize our health status.

Even the most optimistic person can find it challenging to be positive in this day and age of instantaneous news updates on the internet and constant exposure to various kinds of social media. My husband, a self-proclaimed pessimist, recommends focusing more attention on the positive things that are happening in your life with family and friends rather than monitoring someone else’s view of how the world stage is in seemingly constant conflict. In effect, simplify your life. Perhaps help brighten someone else’s day with an act of kindness. The reward will be positively amazing.

Alice Facente is a community health nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, January 25, 2016


Helping children get a good night’s sleep

Picture this: You wake up with no alarm, the birds are singing, the sky is blue, and you feel well-rested and ready to take on the day.

Most of us will admit that this is far from our reality. With busier work schedules, extracurricular obligations, and the age of electronics, sleep deprivation has become a national epidemic. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention reports that one third of the adult population in the United States gets less than the recommended seven to eight hours of sleep each day. What is even more concerning is the increase in sleep problems seen in children and teens who are most at need of a good night’s sleep.

While lack of sleep in adulthood can impact one’s health and mood, the effects are even more drastic in babies, older children, and teens, whose bodies and brains are still under development. Lynelle Schneeberg, PsyD, the Director of the Behavioral Sleep Medicine Program at Connecticut Children’s Hospital Sleep Center, notes that poor immune function, weight problems, and nightmares and night terrors are all associated with a lack of sleep. In addition, because growth hormone is released cyclically in the body and peaks at night, there can be significant consequences on child growth and development.

The problems do not end there. Lack of sleep can lead to challenges academically as well as impact classroom attentiveness. Sleep deprived children often present with irritability and tantrums, which can affect them academically as well as socially. The Journal of Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology also suggests that children and teens with sleep deprivation are at a higher risk for emotional disorders such as depression and anxiety. If patients have been previously diagnosed with these disorders, a lack of sleep can worsen symptoms.

What is preventing adequate sleep in children? Dr. Schneeberg suggests that the answer is two-fold. She explains that sleep problems often stem from “problematic sleep onset associations” as well as “a bedtime routine without a clear final step.” Problems with sleep onset typically mean that a child will only go to sleep when the parent is present. Thus, when the child wakes up in the middle of the night, rather than turning over and going back to sleep, they get out of bed to find their parents. This leads to disruption in sleep for both the child and parent.

Poor bedtime routines can lead to children attempting to extend the time until they have to go to sleep. This may mean asking to read another book, watching another television show, or having a parent tell another bedtime story. The Journal of Adolescent Health reports that increased extracurricular activities, homework, and jobs as well as early school hours can contribute to lack of sleep in teenagers. In addition, increasing school pressure and anxiety can lead to trouble falling and staying asleep in teens.

Fortunately for the younger population there are ways to help. Parents can establish firmer bedtime routines with children. Dr. Schneeberg recommends encouraging your child to fall asleep on their own. In addition, removing all electronics from the bedroom for people of any age can lead to significant improvement in sleep. Research suggests that such devices are not only a distraction from sleep, but that the blue wavelengths emitted from their screens are associated with suppressing melatonin in the body. Melatonin is a hormone important for the regulation of sleep and altering its levels can result in sleep problems. Finally, helping teenagers learn how to manage stress and relax before bed through reading or yoga can help address anxiety that may be contributing to trouble falling asleep.

If a parent has established clear routines, removed electronics from the bedroom, and still finds that there is a problem they can turn to a sleep physician at a sleep center accredited by the American Academy of Sleep Medicine to eliminate other causes such as restless legs syndrome, sleep walking, or sleep apnea. The sleep physician may then refer to a behavioral sleep specialist who will work with the family to establish a nighttime routine and address other contributing problems to sleep deprivation like stress and anxiety.

So put down that third cup of coffee and consider how you can improve your family’s sleep habits. Healthy sleep habits for your children will help them avoid associated mental and physical health problems and even help you get better sleep as well. I can’t promise that you will automatically become a morning person, jumping out of bed with a smile on your face, but you may find you have a little more energy to tackle your day and enjoy with family.

Katelyn Cusmano is a Backus Hospital Volunteer and a UConn Medical School MD Candidate for the class of 2018. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Cusmano or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Monday, January 18, 2016


The importance of a positive self-image

Jeff is the hospital photographer, and a friend of mine. He was recently tasked with sending a photo of me to accompany a health column. He had taken several of me in the past and asked me which one I wanted to use. When I pointed to one that was taken recently that I felt was “not too bad” he asked me if I wanted to put it through a photo software program that erased facial imperfections and was a little more flattering. I thought that would be fun. I watched, fascinated, as my face transformed before my eyes; my cheeks and nose were slimmed down, blemishes and wrinkles around my eyes were erased, and my thick, unruly eyebrows were nicely shaped. I looked 20 years younger and many pounds slimmer.

As I stared at that new improved version of my face, I started thinking: As much as I would love to look like that photo, it really wasn’t me. It sure was difficult, but I had to tell Jeff to reverse the improvements and just submit the original photo, imperfections and all.

Perfection is overrated. A little imperfection is what makes us unique. Cosmetic surgery and weight loss programs are multi-billion dollar industries. They are catering to people who want to achieve perfection. I’m not talking about weight loss programs that improve our health or plastic surgery that corrects deformities. I have been involved in weight loss programs for many years. While I have certainly not achieved my perfect goal weight, I have improved my overall health. I refer here to the “Joan Rivers Syndrome” in which the relentless pursuit of perfection results in unnecessary and potential harm.

Kristen Houghton writes for the Huffington Post about this subject in an article entitled, “Happiness is Loving Your Body, Imperfections and All.” She reminds us that Renaissance artists such as Michelangelo and da Vinci created masterpieces with flaws. They would paint women with a rounded stomach, or a slightly skewed nose to show character and real life. In that same vein, my wise daughter always said, “Mom, you just have to be happy in the skin you’re in.”

I asked my colleague Rosemarie Neilson, a therapist at the Backus Center for Mental Health to weigh in on the issue of positive self-image and provide some insight that we can all learn from.

Rosemarie explained through Erik Erikson’s Psychosocial Stages of Development just how we acquire our positive or negative self-image. This theory identifies eight stages which a healthy developing child should pass through from infancy through late adulthood. In each stage, the person confronts and hopefully masters new challenges. Erikson details as each stage of development is successfully completed the child emerges into early adulthood with a positive self-image built on “trust, autonomy, initiative and a feeling of competency.”

Rosemarie emphasizes the important role that parents, grandparents, teachers, siblings and all care takers have in the healthy development of the growing child. If these people expose the child to “warmth, regularity, and dependable affection” the child’s view of the world will be one of trust. Mistrust develops when feelings of frustration, suspicion and withdrawal lead to a lack of confidence, thus low self-image.

After talking to Rosemarie about this, I guess I have been fairly successful in negotiating through those stages, and am confident enough to be able to show my physical flaws even when faced with a technological way to hide them.

When I thought about it, erasing those laugh lines around my eyes would be an injustice. Those wrinkles were a testament to the 60-plus years of laughing I have done in my lifetime, so far.

Alice Facente is a community health nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Facente or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

Tuesday, January 12, 2016


The joy of food

For just a moment, imagine that you’re sitting before a plate of your favorite food. What does it look like? Is it colorful? What is its shape? Lean over the plate and draw in a deep breath. How does it smell? Does it have a sweet, savory or spicy aroma? Does the scent evoke a memory?

Now imagine taking a single, slow, scrumptious bite. What is the texture? Is it soft and chewy or hard and crunchy? How does it feel in your mouth? Is it smooth? Creamy? Rich? Think about how you would describe the flavor to someone who has never tasted this food before. What words would you use? How does this food make you feel? Why do you think it stirs this emotion within you?

As we ate lunch together recently, a good friend of mine reminded me of the old adage that some people eat to live while others live to eat. I had heard this before, but as we sat munching our crisp salads and satisfying soups, I began to feel truly sorry for anyone who eats only because it is a prerequisite for survival. For me, food is one of the great pleasures of living. Anyone who has ever shared a meal with me has heard me sigh with delight at the simplest of foods. I have been known to marvel at ripe raspberries, wonder at a warm loaf of crusty bread and be awed by tuna sandwiches, much to the amusement of my table-mates.

Sadly however, with the ever-quickening pace of life, even I have found myself eating on auto-pilot more and more lately; multi-tasking on lunch breaks, shoveling food down my throat while returning emails or between phone calls. Food needs and deserves our full attention. It nourishes us in so many ways, and it is so much more than a mere conglomeration of molecules that we call nutrients. It has an energy all its own and is an entire sensory experience to be treasured. It makes life both possible and more enjoyable. After all, we are not just simple machines needing fuel to fill our tanks so that we can continue to operate for a few more hours.

While I know that many of us resolve to eat less or make healthier choices in the New Year, I hope that these resolutions do not rob you of the pleasure of eating; especially since studies have shown time and again that fully mindful munching can help you reach those goals. To reap the benefits, all you have to do is be present in the moment, chew slowly and imagine that whatever you are eating is your favorite food. However you choose to be healthier this year, I hope it brings you happiness. Personally, my resolution is to rediscover the joy of food, bite by luscious bite.

Jennifer Fetterley is a registered dietitian at Backus Hospital and Thames Valley Council for Community Action. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal health care provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Fetterley or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

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