Monday, April 14, 2014


Just say “Ahhh”

All you have to do is say, “Ahhh” — it’s that simple to get checked at a screening during Oral, Head and Neck Cancer Awareness Week, which is observed April 20-26.

Oral, head, and neck cancer is a broad term that includes malignant tumors occurring in the mouth or oral cavity, which includes lips, tongue, gums, lining inside the lips and cheeks, and the floor or roof of the mouth; the oropharynx, which includes the back one-third of the tongue, the back of the throat, and the tonsils; the nasopharynx, the area behind the nose; the hypopharynx, lower part of the throat; and the voice box.

The sixth most common cancer in the world, oral, head, and neck cancer affects more than 100,000 people each year in the United States.

According to The National Cancer Institute, there are several risk factors:

•  Tobacco (including smokeless tobacco) and alcohol use are very important risk factors for oral, head and neck cancers, particularly those of the tongue, mouth, throat and voice box.
•  Human Papillomavirus (HPV), a sexually-transmitted disease, has recently emerged as a leading cause of oropharyngeal (tonsil and base of tongue) cancer, particularly in non-smokers and younger age groups.
•  Family history or exposure to radiation.  While anyone can develop thyroid cancers, these are considered factors that may increase the risk.

Some early signs and symptoms may include:

•  A red or white spot in your mouth that doesn't heal or that increases in size
•  Sore throat or swollen tonsil
•  Changes in your voice
•  A lump in your neck
•  Persistent earachwe
•  Difficulty swallowing

It is important to note that the symptoms described here can occur with no cancer present, but having a thorough examination by an ear, nose and throat (ENT) physician can rule out any issues.

Speaking of that, Backus Hospital will offer a free head and neck cancer screening on Thursday, April 24, provided by ENTspecialists Gregory Lesnik, MD, Thomas Lesnik, MD, and Steven Green, MD.  Dentists also participating in the screening include Edward Yates, DDS, Richard Martin, MD, DMD, Robert Strick, DMD,  and Sami Yousuf, DDS. The screening will take place, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. in the hospital’s main entry level conference rooms at 326 Washington St. in Norwich. No appointments necessary; walk-ins welcome.

Last year more than 150 people were checked at the Backus screening – it’s easy, free, and might even save a life.  For more information about oral, head, and neck cancer, visit

Alice Facente is a community health nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal healthcare 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

Wednesday, April 09, 2014


Sometimes, out of tragedy, comes awareness

On Wednesday, April 2, the Fort Hood Army base in Texas was rocked by a shooting that left four dead and 16 wounded. Since then, military officials revealed that the alleged shooter, Ivan Lopez, was being assessed for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) — a mental illness that has become associated with veterans of war.

PTSD is a debilitating mental disorder that can affect people who have witnessed or experienced a traumatic event, such as abuse, assault, disasters, accidents, or wartime. Those suffering from PTSD may experience a wide range of symptoms including flashbacks, nightmares, sleep disturbances, or panic attacks. They may seem irritable and explosive, or detached and avoidant. Here are some more facts about PTSD:

•  We don’t know exactly who will develop PTSD. After a traumatic event, it is common to develop an acute stress reaction, but only a small percentage will go on to develop PTSD. Various factors such as genetics and a history of prior trauma seem to play a role. A traumatic brain injury, such as those experienced in battle when soldiers are exposed to explosive devices, is likely to increase the risk of developing PTSD.

•  PTSD affects men and women, children and adults. Although women are slightly more likely to suffer from PTSD, men are susceptible too. Similarly, PTSD can affect people of all ages. Children may not display classic symptoms of PTSD, but instead may show regression in behavior or other behavioral problems.

•  People with PTSD may self-medicate. What looks like a drug or alcohol problem on the outside may stem from deeper seeded issues. People with mental illnesses like PTSD often self-medicate with alcohol or prescription or street drugs. PTSD is also known to have a high degree of correlation with other mental illnesses (co-morbidity), such as major depression and anxiety disorders.

•  PTSD, like all mental illnesses, is treatable. There is often a misconception that treatment doesn’t work; on the contrary, between 70% and 90% of individuals that receive treatment for mental illness have significant reduction of symptoms and improved quality of life with a combination of therapy and medication.

Jonathan Chasen, MD, is an Associate Medical Director at Natchaug Hospital, a Hartford HealthCare Behavioral Health Network affiliate and Eastern Connecticut’s leading provider of intensive behavioral health and substance abuse treatment. This column should not replace the advice of your provider. To watch a video on post-traumatic stress disorder, visit

Monday, April 07, 2014


The benefits of adding the “out” to your workout

As we emerge squinting and stumbling from our hibernatory caves, we get our first taste of delicious sunshine and smile. Spring is here — and not a moment too soon. We’ve officially made it through a very tough winter.

At this time of year, we are naturally drawn to the outdoors, and with good reason. Not only do we want to drink in all of that warmth and blue sky we’ve been missing, but mankind has an innate physiological need to connect with nature.

While I’m sure that most of you can appreciate how good you feel after spending time outside, you may be unaware that studies are beginning to show just how important nature is to our health. Research has demonstrated that regularly spending time outdoors can reduce stress hormone levels and release endorphins. It can enhance our immune systems and balance our moods. Amazingly, recent studies have shown that it can even boost our ability to fight cancer.

And those are just the benefits of being outside, even if it’s just to sit quietly in the grass and listen to the sound of chirping birds and swaying tree branches. Exercise itself boasts many of the same advantages as quiet time in nature, so just imagine how the bonuses multiply when you exercise outside. Cha-ching!

What’s more, researchers have observed that people who exercise outdoors perceive their level of exertion as lower and their sense of enjoyment higher than those exercising at the same intensity indoors. Imagine that. You’re working out harder (and reaping all the rewards of a more intense workout) without even feeling it, all while having more fun. Cha-ching! Cha-ching!

Yep, this one’s a no-brainer. So in the spirit of spring, re-introduce yourself to Mother Nature. She’s missed you.

Jennifer Fetterley is a registered dietitian for the Backus Health System and Thames Valley Council for Community Action. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal healthcare 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

Monday, March 31, 2014


What to expect when you're NOT expecting

Under normal circumstances, asking a woman when she is expecting a baby is a happy occasion.  However, if a woman has gained some weight and is not pregnant, it’s her worst nightmare.  This scenario happened to a good friend of mine and was the motivation she needed to lose 30 pounds.  Sometimes we just need a motivator. Here are some helpful hints to help women — and men — to lose those extra pounds:

•  List your reasons to lose weight.  Unless your doctor warned you that there would be dire health consequences if you don’t lose weight, here are some solid reasons we can all appreciate — to feel better, to get healthy, and to feel more energetic, just to name a few.  Whatever your reasons, write them down and post them on the fridge, where you can see them everyday.

•  Reward yourself for achievements.  Whether it’s getting a manicure, downloading some new iTunes, or going to the latest movie, reward yourself for incremental achievements, just not with a pint of double chocolate ice cream or half a pound cake.

•  Buddy up with a fellow dieter.  This is important for support and to share your successes and failures.   Sometimes you won’t feel like exercising or taking that power walk, but if you’ve pre-arranged to meet someone and do it together, you won’t want to disappoint your buddy.

•  Create a diversion.  Too many demands on your time can result in mindless snacking. Take a moment to put on the brakes. Stand up and look out the window, or step outside.  Focus on the view, the weather, and how you feel. Give yourself a few minutes to be in the moment and to assess if you really are hungry.

•  Take it slowly.  Make small changes so you don’t get discouraged.  Last year, I wrote about my husband and his co-worker’s ill-considered food choices when I am working late.  That public exposure was the motivation for both of them to make small changes in their food choices.  Last week, my husband told me instead of peanut butter and jelly on white bread with diet soda they will snack on fresh fruit and cut up veggies with water to drink.  They still admit to occasionally indulging in bologna on potato bread, but these small steps are big victories towards healthier eating. 

These are some strategies to stay motivated – each person needs to find what works for them. One last tip — don’t congratulate a woman on her pregnancy unless you are absolutely sure she is expecting!

Alice Facente is a community health nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal healthcare 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 24, 2014


A few fun health facts to ponder

After taking on a very serious topic in last week's column (see below), I feel compelled to write about something a little lighter this week — maybe even a little frivolous.

Here are some fun health facts, gleaned from various internet websites: 

•  It takes 10-15 minutes of laughter a day to burn up 50 calories.

•  Cockroaches can live for nine days after their head has been cut off.  (Source:

•  The most pushups ever performed in one day was 46,001 by Charles Servizio. (Source:

•  The chances of you dying on the way to get your lottery tickets are greater than your chances of winning. (Source:

•  A sneeze generates a wind of 100 miles/hour, and a cough is expelled at 60 miles/hour.

•  An adult produces about 25,000 quarts of saliva in a lifetime, enough to fill two swimming pools.

•  It is not possible to tickle yourself. The cerebellum, a part of the brain, warns the rest of the brain that you are about to tickle yourself. Since your brain knows this, it ignores the resulting sensation.

•  People have the tendency to chew the food on the side that they most often use their hand.

•  About 10% of the world’s population is left-handed. 

•  The average sperm cell swims at eight inches per hour.

•  Your pet isn't the only one in the house with a shedding problem. Humans shed about 600,000 particles of skin every hour. That works out to about 1.5 pounds each year, so the average person will lose around 105 pounds of skin by age 70. (Source:

•  Researchers have found that more than 2,000 different species of bacteria live in our belly button. (Source:

•  Our eyes are always the same size from birth, but our nose and ears never stop growing.

•  Leonardo da Vinci’s Mona Lisa has no eyebrows. It was the fashion in Renaissance Florence to shave them off.

•  There are as many hairs per square inch on your body as a chimpanzee. (source:

•  By age 60, 40% of women and 60% of men will snore. While snores average around 60 decibels, the noise level of normal speech, they can reach more than 80 decibels. Eighty decibels is as loud as the sound of a pneumatic drill breaking up concrete. (Source:

•  The brain operates on the same amount of power as 10-watt light bulb. (Source:

•  If you didn’t have valves in your body, when you stand up all the blood in your body would literally fall downward, filling your feet and legs up.  (Source:

•  You see your nose at all times, your brain just chooses to ignore it.

Researchers say adults laugh 15 times a day on average, but children laugh about 300 times a day. Hopefully, some of these fun health facts helped you meet your laugh quota for today.

Alice Facente is a community health nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal healthcare 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 17, 2014


We must stop the stigma associated with mental illness, suicide

Sadly, suicide is far too common in today’s society. The World Health Organization estimates that 1 million people die each year from suicide.   

What drives a person to take their own life?  It may be hard to understand that a person is in so much pain they can’t see any other option than suicide.  Suicide is a desperate attempt to escape pain or suffering that has become unbearable.

There are many common myths about suicide, including that talking about it may give someone the idea.  The opposite is true: bringing up the subject of suicide and discussing it openly may be one of the most helpful things you can do.  It shows you care.

Another common myth is people who commit suicide are people who were unwilling to seek help. Studies of suicide victims have shown that more than half had sought medical help in the six months prior to their deaths.

Suicide prevention starts with recognizing the warning signs and taking them seriously. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline offers the following valuable information:

Warning Signs for Suicide
•  Talking about wanting to die.
•  Talking about feeling hopeless or having no reason to live.
•  Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain.
•  Talking about being a burden to others.
•  Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs.
•  Acting anxious or agitated.
•  Sleeping too little or too much.
•  Withdrawing or isolating.
•  Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge.
•  Displaying extreme mood swings.

What to do if someone exhibits warning signs:
•  Do NOT leave the person alone.
•  Remove any firearms, alcohol, drugs, or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt.
•  Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
•  Locally in Connecticut, call 2-1-1 and press 1 for the Mobile Crisis Intervention Service.
•  Take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a mental health professional.

If you suspect someone you know is contemplating suicide, the worst thing you can do to stay quiet. Unfortunately, because of the stigma associated with mental illness and suicide, far too many people try to hide the situation because they are embarrassed that someone they know and love is suicidal. 

There is an ongoing campaign to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness, and it includes taking a pledge to not use words that stereotype or stigmatize those with mental illness. You can take the pledge by visiting

Alice Facente is a community health nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal healthcare 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 10, 2014


Have you been keeping your New Year’s resolutions?

New Year’s resolutions are difficult to keep. Like many of you, my New Year’s resolution was to lose weight. It’s been 70 days and it’s getting harder and harder to stick to my pledge.  Let’s face it — it’s been easy to stick to the diet while at work with the support of colleagues who are also trying to lose a few pounds.  We eat together, support healthy food choices, and try to fit in a 15-minute walk. Walking not only helps us to clear our minds, but to return to work refreshed and focused.

I struggle with healthy habits once I get home from work.  I’m running here and there to get my daughters and then bring them to and from their activities. By the time we arrive at home, it’s dark, cold and late. How can I get in some exercise when I have to make dinner, wash uniforms and prepare lunches?  All of this got me thinking. 

I won’t lie. I’ve been very creative with exercising - doing laundry, loading the dishwasher, dusting, vacuuming and cleaning. I suggest putting on some music — a combination of everyone’s favorites and dance around while accomplishing the household chores. Participating in housework is in fact physical activity — and you do burn calories. According to the website, dusting for 30 minutes burns about 90 calories, loading the dishwasher burns about 105 calories, vacuuming burns about 90, and going up and down the staircase burns about 285 calories. If you total up these everyday chores, you’ve burned 510 calories, plus had fun with the family. 

By incorporating these daily chores into your activities, you will be teaching your children life skills, spending time together, and most importantly, burning calories.  Scrubbing the soap scum off the shower tile, carrying in the groceries, or climbing the stairs to put laundry away can even help you tone muscles.  I challenge you to turn mundane chores into fun exercise.  Plus, your house will be sparkling clean!

Before I leave you, my last suggestion for getting moving is to play a game on the Wii.  In our house, my youngest daughter likes dance videos.  Please note, however, these videos can be challenging for those who are uncoordinated (myself included).  My girls laugh hysterically at me as I attempt to keep up with all the moves.  I wonder if I can find a waltz?

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

Monday, March 03, 2014


Colon cancer — preventable, treatable and beatable

I’ll be dressed in blue on Friday, March 7. Why? Backus and Windham hospitals will be promoting colon cancer awareness throughout the community. Did you know that in February 2000, President Clinton officially dedicated March as National Colon Cancer Awareness Month?  The Blue Star, a symbol of the fight against colon cancer, symbolizes the eternal memory of those lives lost to the disease and serves as hope for a future free from colon cancer. 

Not too long ago Katie Couric bravely discussed her husband’s death from colorectal cancer and had her own colonoscopy taped and watched by millions. There is still not enough discussion about colon cancer and preventative screenings because people find it embarrassing to discuss the parts of the body affected by colon cancer.

Colon cancer affects men and women of all nationalities.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States.  The colon is made up of the small and large intestines and the rectum is the passageway that connects the colon to the anus. In 2010, the CDC reported that 131,607 people in the United States were diagnosed with colon cancer. 

On average, the risk of developing colon cancer is one in 20, however, this number varies according to individual risk factors. The risk of colon cancer increases with age, and most cases occur in people age 50 or older. However, this does not mean that younger individuals should not be aware of the factors or participate in preventative screenings.  Risk factors include having a family history of colon cancer or colorectal polyps, having an inflammatory bowel disease, a genetic syndrome such as familial adenomatous polyposis (FAP) or hereditary non-polyposis colorectal cancer (Lynch syndrome).

Colorectal cancer screenings are recommended for both men and women beginning at age 50. However, those individuals with a higher risk are usually screened earlier than age 50. Colorectal cancer screenings can find precancerous polyps that can be removed before they become cancerous, preventing this dreaded disease.  Screenings can also detected colon cancer in its early stages when there is a greater chance that treatment will be most effective and lead to a cure. 

The CDC numbers are staggering — at least six out of 10 deaths from colorectal cancer could be prevented if all men and women aged 50 years or older were screened routinely.  Although screening rates continue to rise in the United States, 22 million people have not yet been screened. Some studies suggest that individuals may decrease their risk of developing colon cancer by exercising regularly, eating fruits and vegetables, limiting alcohol consumption, not smoking and eating a low-fat, high-fiber diet. 

Remember it is important to keep open lines of communication with your physician.  Ask your healthcare provider if you should be screened for colorectal cancer. After all, colon cancer is preventable, treatable and beatable.

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

Tuesday, February 25, 2014


Everything in moderation ... even chocolate

“Everything in moderation.”  There’s that phrase again.  It comes up repeatedly when discussing health, diet, exercise, and life in general. At the last visit to my primary care physician, my blood work revealed an elevated total cholesterol of 212 and a high LDL (ideal LDL should be below 100, but mine was 134).  

Before resorting to an increase in medication, I decided to cut out chocolate from my diet.  I have written about the benefits of small amounts of chocolate in daily diet, but I confess I was eating huge quantities around the holidays, thanks to generous gifts from patients and co-workers, friends, and neighbors.  My New Year’s resolution was to omit chocolate completely.  Cold turkey, so to speak.  My friends and co-workers were supportive, only occasionally tempting me with chocolate treats.

I have touted the anti-depressant benefits of chocolate in the past, and a month into my chocolate-free life, I asked my husband if he thought I was more crabby than usual.  His response, “My attorney advised me not to answer that question.”  Smart man.

I decided to research the benefits of chocolate again.  Registered Dietitian Katherine Zeratsky discusses this topic on the Mayo Clinic website at While it hasn’t gained the status of health food quite yet, chocolate's reputation is on the rise. A growing number of studies suggest that it can be a heart-healthy choice.

Chocolate and its main ingredient, cocoa, appear to reduce risk factors for heart disease. Flavanols in cocoa beans have antioxidant effects that reduce cell damage implicated in heart disease. Flavanols, which are more prevalent in dark chocolate than in milk chocolate or white chocolate, also help lower blood pressure and improve vascular function. In addition, some research has linked chocolate consumption to reduced risks of diabetes, stroke and heart attack, but the evidence for these claims comes mostly from short-term and uncontrolled studies. 

Zeratsky advises, “If you want to add chocolate to your diet, do so in moderation.”  Her reasoning is that commercial chocolate has ingredients that add fat, sugar and calories. And too much can contribute to weight gain, a risk factor for high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes. 

The best choice is dark chocolate with cocoa content of 65 percent or higher. 

Forty-two days into my chocolate fast, my blood work was repeated.  To my surprise, my total cholesterol was 216, and my LDL was 137, slightly worse than before.

When reviewing my test results, my doctor said, “So why not start eating chocolate again, but only in moderation.  You have to balance enjoying life with a healthy lifestyle and the appropriate medication.”

Along with stepping up my exercise level, I have decided to take my doctor’s advice and resume eating a little chocolate.  I will eat no more than one ounce of dark chocolate each day, in other words, in moderation.  Now if I could just find that stash of chocolate that I asked my husband to hide a few weeks ago.

Alice Facente is a community health nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal healthcare 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 17, 2014


Caregivers should take heart and take a break

February is the month when we celebrate love and caring; Valentine’s Day and healthy hearts.   But it isn’t all about heart-shaped boxes of chocolates and cards with cute pictures of Cupid.  It is also a good time to remember caregivers.  Many people are being cared for by family members or close friends.  Indeed, the Mayo Clinic reports more than 65 million Americans provide care to a loved one.

Caregiving can be very rewarding, but also very stressful. Being a caregiver can be physically as well as emotionally draining. Sometimes caregivers are so focused on caring for their loved one, they fail to notice problems in with own health.

Here are some tips to relieve caregiver stress:

•  Take laughter breaks.  Watch a funny video, watch comedies on TV, read the funny pages.  Even the most seriously ill people need light moments.  Nobody wants to be solemn and serious 24 hours a day.  It’s not disrespectful, it’s refreshing to laugh at least a little every day.

•  Take daily exercise breaks.  Going for a 20-minute walk with a friend can do wonders.

•  Accept help from others. Make a list of things that would relieve some of the burden, then let those offering help choose what they want to do from your list.   Let them feel good about helping and supporting you.

•  Speak up. Don’t expect people to automatically know what you’re feeling. Involve as many people as you can to share the responsibility.   

•  Don’t strive for perfection — accept that everything doesn’t have to be perfect.  Make a list of the things that are “absolutely necessary” and let other, non-essential things go.

•  Don’t neglect your own health. Do whatever is necessary to get a good night’s sleep and eat healthy meals.  Make sure you keep your own medical appointments.

•  Take some respite time for yourself.  Arrange for someone else to take over caregiving duties for a bit while you get a manicure, pedicure, go out to a movie theater, whatever makes you happy. Professional home health care workers get time off — why shouldn’t you?

•  Consider joining a caregiver support group.  Most local hospitals have them.  Backus Hospital has just started a caregiver support group — call 860-889-8331, ext. 4239 for more information. 
Caring for yourself is just as important as for caring for your loved one.  Get the support you need, you deserve it!

Alice Facente is a community health nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal healthcare 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 

Wednesday, February 12, 2014


My daughter’s story: Heart disease in little hearts

Having a baby is a happy occasion. For some, however, this happy occasion can turn scary — quickly. My husband and I experienced this when our daughter was born. Her delivery went well and everyone gushed over her.  

What came next was unexpected. Our pediatrician said, “The nurse listened to your daughter’s heart and called me.” In one instant, our joy turned to fear. A cardiologist read her EKG and recommended transporting her to Yale-New Haven Hospital to be assessed by a pediatric cardiologist. 

At Yale, the pediatric cardiologist met us in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). He informed us that our daughter had a congenital heart defect called aortic valve stenosis (AVS) and required surgery. If she did not have this procedure she would die. She was scheduled for heart valve repair early the next morning. 

To our good fortune, the procedure went well. Four days later, we were able to take our baby home. We are thankful that our maternity nurse picked up on our baby’s heart defect — her outcome could have been grave.

Anyone can have a child with a congenital heart defect. Congenital heart defects are structural problems, caused from abnormal formation of the heart or major blood vessels. According to the American Heart Association, nine in 1,000 infants will have some form of congenital heart disorder.  Recent progress in diagnosis and treatment has made it possible to repair most defects, even those that were once thought to be hopeless. It is comforting to know that in 2013 the state of Connecticut passed a law for mandatory congenital heart disease screenings on infants.

We are grateful that nurse Gloria heard this defect and contacted the pediatrician. Our daughter is a happy, healthy, and athletic 9-year-old. Don’t tell her, but she is perfect. 

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

Monday, February 03, 2014


Learn to breathe a little easier

We take the simple things in life for granted — like taking a deep breath. Millions of people live with lung disease and would give anything to be able to take a deep breath, or blow out the candles on a birthday cake.   

The American Lung Association reports that the number of adults with chronic lung disease including asthma, COPD, and lung cancer in the United States alone is 26 million. COPD, short for chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, is a lung disease that makes it difficult for people to breathe and can eventually lead to death.  COPD, commonly known as emphysema and chronic bronchitis is the third leading cause of death in the United States. The primary cause of COPD is smoking, but it can also be caused by other factors. The good news is that COPD is preventable and treatable.

Like most diseases, the earlier COPD is diagnosed the better the chances one has of living a full, high-quality life. People at greatest risk of having COPD are current and former smokers. Some symptoms of COPD include:

•  A persistent cough, known as a “smoker’s cough”
•  Shortness of breath while doing everyday activities
•  Producing a lot of phlegm or mucus
•  Wheezing
•  Feeling like you cannot breathe or take a deep breath

Individuals who are former smokers or experience any of the above symptoms should talk with their physicians about having a test called spirometry. Spirometry, the measuring of breath, is the most common pulmonary function test and uses a spirometer to measure the amount of air going in and out of the lungs.  This test is usually performed in the physician’s office and can diagnose the disease and severity so early treatment can begin.

A diagnosis of COPD does not mean that you cannot exercise. Actually, it is important to stay active. Discuss with your physician joining a pulmonary rehabilitation program. Pulmonary rehab can help you rebuild strength and reduce shortness of breath. Most of us do not like taking medications but it is extremely important to take any medications ordered by your physician exactly as instructed. 

If you are having problems, talk with your physician about possible solutions. Most importantly, if you are a smoker, quit! Stopping smoking has more of an impact on the disease than any other treatment. If you have a COPD diagnosis, educate yourself. The American Lung Association has an abundance of information and resources to help you better understand the function of your lungs and COPD.

Lastly, get support. Managing COPD is a team effort. Find a local support group like the Better Breather’s Club, which follows the American Lung Association guidelines and welcomes you and your family.  These groups often provide education and skills to adults with all forms of chronic lung disease. 

In addition to finding comfort in talking with others who have similar ailments, a support group may also offer a schedule of educational topics such as coping skills, psychosocial issues, medications and oxygen therapy. Call 860-889-8331, ext. 2661 for more information. Together, all of these efforts can help everyone breathe a little easier!

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

Monday, January 27, 2014


Thyroid disease is common and treatable

If you say diabetes or breast cancer, everyone automatically knows what you are talking about. But if you mention thyroid disease, sometimes all you get is a blank stare.

But the fact is that thyroid disease is very prevalent, so since January is national Thyroid Awareness Month, it is an opportune time to educate people about the disease, its signs and symptoms.

The thyroid gland is located in your neck, right below the Adam’s Apple, over the trachea (or windpipe).  It produces two hormones, thyroxine and triiodothyronine (T4, T3 for short).

T3 is produced in small quantities by the thyroid, but is made in the rest of the body from T4.  It is ultimately responsible for the thyroid effects on our bodies.  T3 is essential for the differentiation of cells and for the coordinated growth of cells. 

In warm-blooded animals (including humans), T3 also stimulates heat production to maintain body temperature.  In babies and children, the lack of a thyroid hormone impedes growth and maturation, even though they also have trouble maintaining body temperature.  In adults, a lack of or excess of thyroid hormones  is associated with reduced or excess heat production, and the function of many organs, particularly the heart, brain, kidney, muscles, skin and digestive tract is also reduced or increased in similar proportion.

Patients with underactive thyroids will have low energy, drowsiness, slow heart, dry skin, muscle stiffness, and tend to be cold.  On the other hand, patients with excess thyroid hormones will be overactive, heat intolerant, sweaty, nervous, insomniac, and have palpitations, accelerated bowel movements and other symptoms.

The thyroid can be the target of a variety of diseases that could reduce or increase its activity or simply cause growth, inflammation, nodules (lumps) and benign or malignant tumors (cancer).
The most common form of thyroid disease is autoimmunity.  Our immune system protects us from bacteria, viruses and foreign proteins, but this system must learn how to recognize the components of our own bodies. This “learning” occurs in our fetal life and often – probably for genetic reasons – it does not occur properly and the system fails to recognize some cells or tissues generating a broad spectrum of diseases such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, pernicious anemia, type I diabetes and many others.
Autoimmune thyroid disease may cause a chronic inflammation of the gland known as Hashimoto’s disease, which often leads to an underactive gland, growth or nodules.

The immune system may also produce antibodies that stimulate the thyroid and cause hyperthyroidism or Graves’ disease, both of which can affect the eyes and cause them to bulge. Non-immune thyroid nodules and tumors are also frequent.  Most of the time these lumps are benign, but in roughly 10% of cases they may be cancerous. 
Symptoms of thyroid malfunction are often not specific. Depression, for example, may cause an array of symptoms suggestive of hypothyroidism.  A common misconception is that hypothyroidism causes obesity. While patients with hypothyroidism frequently have difficulty losing weight, patients with hypothyroidism seldom become obese.

Thyroid diseases are frequent and often complicated.  The appropriate diagnosis and treatment require a deep knowledge of thyroid physiology and pathology.  Thyroid disease may impact peoples’ lives in many ways.  Patients with hypothyroidism tend to blame this condition for most of their symptoms, which frequently result from other causes.  This may lead to erroneous changes in the dose of thyroid medication.  

Jorge E. Silva is the medical director of the Backus Center for Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal healthcare provider. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Dr. Silva or any of the Healthy Living columnists at 

Monday, January 06, 2014


Laughing our way to better health

My favorite Life is Good T-shirt sports the smiling Jake character paddling a kayak.  It says “Full Stream Ahead.”  Advertising for the brand continues, “If it’s not fun, why bother?”

These are stressful times.  Every day we hear about homicides, bombings, political protests, unemployment, foreclosures, bankruptcies, increasingly long lines at soup kitchens and food pantries. Need I go on? 

So maybe it isn’t frivolous to want to have some fun each day; maybe it’s necessary to preserve our mental health.

Even if your stress level is at an all-time high, there are benefits to fun and laughter.  Being aware of the present instead of worrying about past or anticipated stressors allows us to be more open to happiness, laughter and having fun.

Research has shown that laughter reduces the level of stress hormones like cortisol, epinephrine (adrenaline), and dopamine.  It also increases the level of healthy hormones like endorphins.  It’s no joke that laughter strengthens our immune systems by increasing the number of antibody-producing cells we have working for us. 

My cousin, Nancy, firmly believes in the power of laughter. While sitting receiving chemotherapy infusions for breast cancer, she read the humorous Janet Evanovich book series, and often erupted into fits of laughter. She credits this with helping her through a difficult time.

Elizabeth Scott, MS, wrote about the social benefits of laughter and stress management, “Laughter connects us with others. Just as with smiling and kindness, most people find that laughter is contagious, so if you bring more laughter into your life, you can most likely help others around you to laugh more, and realize these benefits as well.”

So let’s all resolve to put a little more laughter into each day and reap the health benefits.

Alice Facente is a community health nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal healthcare 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, December 09, 2013


Avoid the holiday hype and stress that comes along with it

The holidays are here and friends of mine are already feeling the stress.  One even said, “I can’t wait for the holidays to be over.” 
She said she wishes she could go back to a time when we were children, unaware of the pressure to cook big holiday feasts, host or attend numerous holiday parties, shop for the perfect presents for friends, family, and co-workers, and more.  Many of us can identify with this feeling. 

My primary care provider, Dr. Terry Baksh, recently told me his patients present with an increasing amount of stress, anxiety and depression as the holidays approach, especially his older patients.   He suggests that we look for signs of depression in our family and friends and perhaps spend more time with them. They might also welcome being called more frequently.  

Two things might help us focus our efforts on de-stressing:  prioritizing and simplifying.  Our intentions are good; we tend to want to make everyone happy.

But we need to accept that we can’t do it all. We need to write down the absolute “must do” tasks, and cross off the “nice to do but unnecessary” things off our list.
My colleague Dr. Eric Sandberg of the Backus Center for Mental Health suggests simplifying the gift giving and holiday hype. For example, it doesn’t have to be a Currier and Ives perfect picture with dozens of gifts under the tree. He had a great suggestion, one that worked for his family:  each family member gives one — and only one — meaningful gift to each other. 

Getting the family involved in purchasing and donating gifts to one needy family, identified by the local social service agency, is a good way to recapture the holiday spirit. 

Many workplaces are foregoing the co-worker gift-giving tradition and donating the money to their “adopted” family.  Every day this month, The Day is publishing “Make a Difference” on the front page describing a local person or family needing some assistance for the holidays and how we can help.

With a little less holiday hype and stress, we will be better able to focus on the true meaning of the holiday season: thankfulness and gratitude for the blessings we have been given. 

Alice Facente is a community health nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal healthcare 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, December 02, 2013


Cinnamon and spice isn’t always so nice

I'm always happy when my kids come home from school excited about something they learned. They asked if we had ground cinnamon. I thought they wanted cinnamon on apple slices.  Silly me. They told me they wanted me to do the “Cinnamon Challenge,” to try and swallow a spoonful of cinnamon in 60 seconds without any water. All the kids at school are trying it and it’s in YouTube videos.

I asked them what happens to the people in the YouTube videos that have tried this challenge.  They explained that they usually gag, cough, and the cinnamon comes flying out of their mouth or nose like dust.  They said many of the people in the videos say it burns. “It’s pretty funny,” they said.

We watched a YouTube video together. I asked them if it looks like he is having fun. He’s gagging, coughing, he looks in pain.

I advised them to please NOT try this challenge/prank or any other. I tried calmly, as calm as a mom who’s a nurse can be, to explain why this challenge is so dangerous. 
Ground cinnamon is made from tree bark and contains cellulose fibers that do not easily break down. When a large amount of cinnamon is placed in the mouth the individual will begin to gag, cough, choke, and even vomit. Cinnamon can cause irritation to the throat and lungs if inhaled. The irritation to the lungs may cause shortness of breath and trouble breathing. Even worse, cinnamon in the lungs could cause pneumonia, a lung to collapse, scar tissue to develop or permanent lung damage.

The “Cinnamon Challenge” is no joking matter. According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers, the number of calls received about kids doing this prank has increased dramatically, from 51 in 2011 to 222 in the last year.

I told my kids I love a good prank, but not one that endangers their life or someone else’s. I asked them to share the truth about this potentially dangerous challenge/prank with their friends who may want to attempt it.  Let’s all spread the word and encourage everyone to “just say no” to the cinnamon challenge. 

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

Monday, November 25, 2013


When the holiday season focuses on food, step up your exercise routine

The holiday season is known as the “most wonderful time of year.”

It’s wonderful alright. And peaceful. There’s nothing as soothing as watching those first snowflakes fall softly to the frozen ground as you sip hot spiced cider. Nothing as serene as looking out onto the silvery white landscape in the stillness of the morning and drinking in the silence. For many, the holiday season is a time of quiet and tranquil reflection.

However when it comes to our health, make no mistake this is war.

There’s no doubt that our adversary is tough. The holiday season packs a double whammy for our waistlines. Parties and social gatherings bring lots of calorie-laden delights while cool temperatures along with busy schedules turn our exercise mojo into mush. Well played, holiday season… Well played…

The good news is we can defeat our opponent. Like any good soldier, we just need a sound battle strategy. Luckily for us, we know our foe well, so we know just how to fight.

We will start by being prepared for holiday parties by eating plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and lean proteins and by staying on a regular eating schedule without skipping meals. Step two of the plan is to drink lots of water and go easy on alcohol and high-calorie beverages. Step three? Take small portions, filling up on healthier options while splurging only on the foods that we truly love. And the final step in our plan is to concentrate on party activities and conversation to take the focus off food.
This is a great plan, but it’s missing something — a backup. Because let’s face it, no matter how well we stick to our plan we’re bound to eat a little more than we should this time of year. Even the best strategists can’t foresee every possible obstacle, so to be thorough a good strategy needs a “Plan B.”

What is our Plan B you ask? Stepping up our exercise game. Since we’re already regular exercisers (ahem) this is simply a matter of making small changes to burn a few extra calories over the coming weeks. Taking the stairs a few extra times at home or at work. Parking farther away from the stores as we do our holiday shopping. Doing seated exercises or stretches as we watch George Bailey help Clarence earn his wings.

And if by wild chance some of us are not regular exercisers (gasp), we should consider this our golden opportunity to make up for lost time and establish a new healthy habit. It can be as simple as taking a 15- minute walk every day. Not only will we burn off some of that holiday cheer we guzzled at the office party, we will reduce stress. After all, despite the wonder, this can also be the most stressful time of the year.

Wow! We are on track to knock the stockings off this holiday season. Not only do we have a plan for managing our calorie consumption, we’re going to get fit and blast stress into smithereens in the process. We’re sitting pretty and we still have one more maneuver in our yuletide arsenal — the New Year’s Resolution.

Most of us pledge to detox after the excess of the holidays by tossing the leftover fruitcake and getting back into our gym-frequenting routine. This year however, we can take it a step further and learn about healthy eating while giving back to the community at the same time. The Healthy Eating Advocate Training Program teaches the basics of nutrition so that participants may become advocates for health and wellness in the community, volunteering to share their knowledge with friends and neighbors. Sessions will begin after the start of the New Year, so don’t drop the ball and miss out. For more information, call 860-889-8331 ext. 2267.  

Improving our own health and volunteering… Now that’s a resolution two-fer. I must say, we are tactical geniuses. The month of December isn’t going to know what hit it.

Jennifer Fetterley is a registered dietitian with the Thames Valley Council for Community Action and The William W. Backus Hospital Community Health Education Department. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal healthcare 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

Monday, November 18, 2013


The secrets to staying fit are not so far away

One thing my husband and I noticed when visiting our son in Moab, Utah, is there are virtually no obese people.  We started looking around for overweight people in grocery stores, restaurants, gas stations, the local coffee shop, bicycle rental shops, and even bookstores — and didn't spot a single one. 

Everybody seems to have an active lifestyle, whether it is running, biking, hiking, mountain climbing, or even riding a zip line. Our son doesn't even own a television set.

We purposely looked for women in spike high heels, and didn't see any. Everybody, whether local or visitor, wears sneakers or hiking boots with active wear like T-shirts and cargo pants, sweatshirts and windbreakers. Billboards promote the local 5K fund-raiser or the best trails for hiking or biking.

Fruit smoothies, healthy whole grain breads, granola energy bars, and a particularly large fresh produce section were most prominent in the local supermarket. 

In the grocery stores they feature  the NuVal system to help shoppers make healthier food choices. A small tag on the shelf next to each product rates the nutritional value of each item on a scale of 1 to 100.  The vitamin and mineral content, the sugar and fat content, additives, calorie count, etc…  are all taken into account when deciding the number.

Cartons of fresh strawberries or blueberries were rated 100, and I spotted a few sugar-laden, nutrient-depleted offerings in the cereal aisle that earned a rating of one.  Even the most buff athlete will admit to indulging in occasional treats, as long as the majority of meals consumed are healthy and nutritious.

I guess the bottom line is still we need to "exercise more and eat better" to stay fit.

Wherever we live, we can follow the example of the folks in Moab and enjoy expansive scenic views, not expansive waistlines.

Alice Facente is a community health nurse for the Backus Health System. This advice should not replace the advice of your personal healthcare 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, November 04, 2013


Handwashing can be the best medicine

As I write this from my cramped seat on an airplane, en route to Utah to visit our son, we are bombarded with the sounds of coughing, sneezing, throat-clearing and nose-blowing of other passengers. It's hard to ignore.

While I have my little bottle of alcohol-based hand sanitizer at the ready, I doubt if many other passengers do, unless they are healthcare workers, too.

I didn't feel any better when I started on the reading material I had brought.  Writing for Healthline, author Lisa Collier Cool cites a rather disturbing  finding.  Ninety-one percent of Americans say they wash their hands after using a public toilet, but an observational study conducted at six U.S. airports found that only 26% of men and 17% of women actually did.  Now that's a dirty little report I wish I hadn't read.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study survey found that 40 million Americans a year fall prey to illnesses spread by hands, which can harbor up to 500,000 bacteria per square centimeter. Ugh. The bacteria numbers sound even worse if measured per inch.

The bottom line is that the easiest, cheapest way to stay healthy is simply to wash hands with soap and water.  Experts advise us to wash hands before and after preparing food, before eating, after using the toilet or changing diapers, after coughing or sneezing, and after touching garbage.  I would add after a session using a computer keyboard, too.  How often do we cleanse our keyboards?

While soap and water is best, alcohol-based hand sanitizers are second best. They don't eliminate every kind of bacteria, but they will help until soap and running water become available.

The recommended procedure for effective hand washing is wet hands, applying soap, scrub between fingers, and well up the wrists for 30 seconds. Rinse under running water, dry on a paper towel, and turn off the faucet with the towel. 

It is suggested that kids sing "Happy Birthday" twice, which should equal 30 seconds. Another thing we noticed is that kids sneezed into their elbows as they are taught to nowadays as opposed to older adults, who are conditioned to cough or sneeze into their hands.  That now-obsolete method of containing germs was polite, but unsanitary. It would have been OK if immediately followed by effective hand washing.

Exposure to a little dirt and normal everyday surface bacteria in our environment is essential for our bodies to build up a good immune system, but let's wait until after flu season to get our quota. 

Alice Facente is a community education nurse for the Backus Health System. 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, October 21, 2013


Men should be screened for prostate cancer

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and pink ribbons are everywhere. This is a great time to remind women to get their annual mammogram, and for the most part many of them follow through on this advice.

But let’s not forget that outside of skin cancer, prostate is the most common type of cancer found in American men, according to the American Cancer Society. One of every six men will get prostate cancer during his lifetime, compared to one in every eight women getting breast cancer.

For many years Backus has offered an annual free prostate cancer screening, and that will continue Saturday, Nov. 9, from 9 a.m. - 1 p.m. at Backus Hospital.  However, only five men have signed up for appointments. And therein lies the problem — men don’t flock to get their prostate screenings. But they should.

The process is rather simple. Urologists Dr. Franklin Friedman and Dr. T. Casey McCullough volunteer their time to conduct the screening.  A digital rectal exam is done, and blood is drawn for a PSA test.

If more men get prostate cancer than women get breast cancer, why have so few taken advantage of our free screening? I have noticed that the men are usually dragged in to their appointments by their wife or significant other.  Come on men, don’t wait for a loved one to drag you by the ear! If you haven’t had one in the past year, call 860-889-8331, ext. 6381 for your appointment ... and take good care of yourself. 

Alice Facente is a community education nurse for the Backus Health System. 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, October 07, 2013


Don’t let the flu get you

Flu seasons are unpredictable and can be severe. According to the CDC, between the years of 1976 and 2006, flu-associated deaths in the United States ranged from 3,000 to 49,000 people. reports that flu season can start as early as October, peak in January or February and last as late as May.

The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by the influenza viruses that infect the nose, throat and lungs. It can cause mild to severe illness, and can lead to death. The best way to prevent the flu is by getting a flu vaccine each year.

People who often have the flu may have some of the following signs and symptoms:

•  Fever (not always) or feeling feverish and chills
•  Cough
•  Sore throat
•  Runny or stuffy nose
•  Headaches
•  Feeling tired (fatigue)
•  Some people may have diarrhea or vomiting (more common in children)
Flu viruses are spread by droplets when people with the flu cough, sneeze or talk. These droplets land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby. A person might also get the flu by touching a surface/object that has the flu virus on it then touching their mouth, eyes or nose.

Certain people are at greater risk for serious complications if they get the flu. This includes people 65 years or older, young children (less than 5 years old), pregnant women and people with certain health conditions such as asthma, COPD, diabetes, heart disease, persons who live in facilities like nursing homes and healthcare professionals.

Again, the best way to prevent the flu is to get the flu vaccine. The seasonal flu vaccine protects against the three influenza viruses that research suggests will be most common for the year. Flu vaccines will not protect against flu-like illnesses caused by non-influenza viruses.

In simple terms, get a flu shot and don't let the flu get you!

Lisa Cook is a community education nurse for the Backus Health System. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Ms. Cook or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

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