Monday, September 23, 2013


Changing bad habits require focus, patience

Most of us have unhealthy habits that we would like to change, but may not know exactly how to go about it.  I have a long list of health improvements I want to make:  lose twenty pounds, stop eating chocolate every day, be a better listener, handle stress better, exercise 30 minutes every day — to name just a few. 

When I look at that long list, I feel overwhelmed, so I will “practice what I preach.”  I have always given the following advice when people show me their long list of New Year’s resolutions:

•  Don’t try to change too many things at once.
•  Choose the most important goal and work on it first.
•  Write down three specific, achievable actions you can take towards your goal.
•  Set a realistic deadline.
•  Be sure to reward yourself when you have accomplished each step toward your goal.

In that spirit, I am taking that advice in my quest to change one thing: How I handle stress in my life. Three specific actions I can take are:

•  Learn how to say “no.” I need to understand my limits and stick to them.
•  Set aside relaxation time throughout the day.
•  Reframe my problems.  Worrying just adds stress, and haven’t we all found that in reality most of the things we worry about never materialize?

Authors Melinda Smith, M.A., and Robert Segal, M.A., offer these tips to manage stress and promote relaxation:

•  Go for a walk
•  Spend time in nature
•  Call a good friend
•  Sweat out tension with a good workout
•  Write in your journal
•  Take a long bath
•  Light scented candles

•  Savor a warm cup of coffee or tea
•  Play with a pet
•  Work in your garden
•  Get a massage
•  Curl up with a good book
•  Listen to music
•  Watch a comedy

I think everyone can use at least two of these tips to help manage the inevitable stress we all feel.

Now that I look at my list of unhealthy habits I want to change, most of my bad habits are related.  If I eat a healthier diet, avoiding a “daily chocolate fix” and exercise 30 minutes a day, I will be using some of the specific actions that have been recommended for managing stress.  Now to reward myself when I have accomplished each step towards my goal, I won’t eat a piece of chocolate, but will do something I really enjoy but don’t often have time for — read a book.

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, September 16, 2013


Irritable Bowel Syndrome more common than many think

In my role as a community health education nurse, I have arranged for educational programs on a wide variety of topics. Several weeks ago, a gastroenterologist — or bowel specialist — approached me and asked me to help him arrange a program on Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) and Crohn’s Disease.  I said I was doubtful that many people would come to a program on that topic.  Well, was I wrong!  We filled the room to capacity, an overwhelming success.  I had no idea so many people were interested in or suffered from IBS.

IBS is a disorder that leads to abdominal pain and cramping, changes in bowel movements, and other symptoms. 

According to the National Institutes of Health, about one in six people in the United States has symptoms of IBS.  It is the most common intestinal problem that causes patients to be referred to a gastroenterologist.  Symptoms range from mild to severe and include abdominal pain, gas and bloating.  It is unclear why patients develop IBS and it is twice as common in women than in men.   

The goal of treatment is to relieve the symptoms. Dietary changes can be helpful. However, no specific diet can be recommended for IBS because the condition differs from  person to person.  Changes that may help alleviate symptoms include avoiding large meals and foods and drinks that stimulate the intestines, such as, caffeine, tea or colas.

This is the most important take-away message: if you notice a consistent change in bowel habits, consult your primary care physician.

In light of the demand for information on the subject, we will be repeating the presentation of “Calm Your Colon: IBS, Crohn’s and Colitis” with Dr. Jefrey Salek and Dr. Shirani Sood, gastroenterologists at Norwich GI Associates. 

Learn more about this topic by attending on Thursday, Dec. 5, from 6-7:30 p.m. at Backus Hospital.  Call 860-889-8331, ext. 6381 to register.  Call now to reserve your space at this program — it’s filling up fast!  

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, September 09, 2013


Rare women’s cancers cannot be ignored

In today’s world, everyone has heard something about the many types of cancer that exist. Breast cancer is a prime of example of a cancer that has a high degree of awareness.

But there are a few cancers that for some are uncomfortable to talk about that people are dealing with every day: cancer of the vulva, cancer of the anus or cancer of the penis to mention a few. 

A co-worker of mine approached me a few months ago, and confided in me that she had stage 4 cancer of the vulva.  I knew it was possible to get cancer anywhere on the body, but I never knew anybody who had been diagnosed with that particular cancer before.  

She felt so vulnerable and alone, explaining that it was a rare cancer, people didn’t talk about it, and she didn’t have any support system.  I thought she was quite brave to reveal this very personal problem.  She decided to go public with her personal struggle to help convince parents to have their young girls vaccinated with the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine, and bring awareness of this type of cancer.

I subsequently did some research and discovered cancer of the vulva is indeed a rare tumor; The American Cancer Society statistics report that approximately 4,700 women in the United States are afflicted annually. It forms in a woman’s external genitalia. Fortunately, vulvar cancer is highly curable if detected at an early stage.

Some of the warning signs and symptoms are:

•  persistent itching, burning, or bleeding on the vulva.
•  skin changes including what looks like warts or rash
•  pelvic pain or pressure especially during urination or after intercourse.

Any of these signs should be reported to your health care provider for evaluation.

Protection from infection with the Human Papilloma Virus including an HPV vaccination reduces the risk of vulvar cancer. Examination of the vulva for changes by a woman at home or by her gynecologist during her annual pelvic examination can lead to the detection of pre-invasive disease or early vulvar cancer. Suspicious or unexplained changes on the vulva should be biopsied.

Should my pre-teen-aged daughter get the Human Papilloma Virus (HPV) vaccine?  This is a dilemma many parents face.  One of the barriers for making this decision is that the optimum time for getting the vaccine is before the girl becomes sexually active, 11-16 years of age.  Most parents do not want to deal with the fact that their child will become sexually active. 

As a parent of a daughter, I understand that.  But the truth of the matter is that this age group has the best response of the immune system.  The older the girl is, the less effective the immune response is to the vaccine.  This is certainly a discussion all parents should have with their health care provider.

The Foundation for Women’s Cancer has good information and has created a very interesting video called, “What every woman should know” on their website

Bringing awareness of these “unmentionable” cancers is so important to make survivors feel supported and spread their message of the prevention measures we should all be aware of.  This health column is a good place to start spreading the word.

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, September 02, 2013


Prepare for disasters before it is too late

Yards filled with downed trees and power lines, basements flooded with water, phone and internet connections disconnected and blocked roads are just a few of the effects of severe weather and disasters that we face in Eastern Connecticut.

Hurricane Irene, Superstorm Sandy, and Blizzard Nemo — severe weather events that will no doubt be talked about for generations to come — have left a lasting impact on our psyche.

If there is anything positive about having such severe weather in a short period of time, it’s that people are taking preparedness more seriously. It had been years since we had blizzards and hurricanes like we have in the last couple of years – now a whole new generation has seen firsthand how vulnerable our neck of the woods is.

As we begin National Preparedness Month (NPM) in September, some may think our area is due for a reprieve, but think again. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) recently released an updated Atlantic hurricane season outlook that predicts an “above-normal season” with an estimated 13-19 named storms through October.

Besides hurricanes and snowstorms, our region can be impacted by many emergencies including: pandemics, cyber attacks, power failures, transportation accidents and workplace violence. Imagine, Interstate 95 being closed for days, or an electrical outage lasting weeks.

Although you may have never been personally affected by an emergency or disaster, the chances are you will in the future. Unfortunately, there is a tendency for people who have never lived through a disaster to have the attitude “It will never happen to me.”

But many experts believe disasters are becoming more common, and they are affecting more people each year. Studies show that people who discuss disasters and plan for emergencies respond and cope better than those who do not. Here are four simple steps we can take to be prepared for whatever might come our way:

Be Aware
•  Think about what emergencies can affect you, your neighborhood, and your community.
•  First responders are often overwhelmed during disasters and may not be able to provide immediate help like normal.  
•  Preparing will allow you to be more safe and comfortable during a disaster.
•  Follow advice from emergency officials, concerned family members, friends, and healthcare providers.

•  Create an emergency plan by writing down personal and emergency contact numbers, as well as medical information.
•  Plan with people you trust, including: neighbors, friends, and companions.
•  Be sure to think about your pets’ and service animals’ needs. Animals can become frightened, panicked and disoriented.

•  Create an emergency kit. Some items to include are: water, non-perishable food, radio with extra batteries, first aid kit, flashlight, clothes and money (cash and coins).
•  If you have an access or functional need, consider preparing essential supplies and medical equipment like oxygen, medication, and batteries.
•  Learn how to shelter in place, and find out where your community’s shelter is located. Be sure to come to the shelter with all the supplies you need.

Connect with community
•  Sign up for CT Alert and your local emergency alert system.
•  Volunteer with a Community Emergency Response Team, Medical Reserve Corp, Red Cross, community group, or local shelter.
•  Assist those in need, neighbors and friends during emergencies.

Emergencies and disasters are often stressful on the entire community. Citizens, organizations, businesses and governments all play important roles in the prevention, preparedness, response and recovery to a disaster — no one can do it alone.

Make no mistake, these unfortunate events will continue to happen, and we owe it to our families, our community and our nation to be more prepared and resilient. To learn more, go to or

Patrick Turek is the Disaster Preparedness Coordinator for the Backus Health System. To comment on this column or others, visit the Healthy Living blog at or e-mail Mr. Turek or any of the Healthy Living columnists at

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