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

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