Monday, August 29, 2016


Nine things people with cancer want you to know

Doesn’t it feel as if everywhere you turn, there is somebody fighting cancer?

It’s no wonder when you read the statistics of the incidence and prevalence of cancer.
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH) approximately 40 percent of men and women will be diagnosed with cancer at some point during their lifetimes (based on 2010-2012 data). In 2016, an estimated 1,685,210 new cases of cancer will be diagnosed in the United States.

The American Cancer Society reports that the majority of cancer survivors (64 percent) were diagnosed five or more years ago. Fifteen percent of cancer survivors were diagnosed twenty or more years ago.

I asked several friends and neighbors who are cancer survivors to share some insight into their experience, specifically, “What one thing do you wish people would know, do or say?” I was surprised at some of their answers.

• “Don’t judge me. Making healthcare decisions is very difficult. They are literally life and death decisions, and it’s discouraging when someone questions or second-guesses my decisions.”

• “Sometimes I wish people would refrain from giving me their opinion or telling me horror stories about others with cancer. Just be with me.

• “Designate a spokesperson who can give updates.” The friend who shared this said that when she had surgery, her husband gave frequent updates to all who cared to know. It was a great relief to know her family and friends were sending their love and support, but she could rest and recuperate while her husband handled all of the communications. Another resource is, a free online tool to keep friends and family updated.

•“Don’t just drop in to visit. I don’t want to hurt your feelings by telling you I’m too exhausted and don’t want to chat. Call me and ask if it’s a good time. I would love to see you when I’m feeling stronger.”

• “Offer specific things to help me, like pick up groceries, or mow the lawn, or bring my kids to a birthday party. Please don’t say, ‘Call me if you need anything’ because I have limited energy and won’t do that.”

• “Just because I’m diagnosed with an incurable cancer doesn’t mean it’s the end for me. Cancer treatment can be overwhelming, and it’s easy to get discouraged. I want to still have fun and joy in my life.”

• “Sometimes I just want to open up and talk about my struggles with someone who has been there. That’s why going to a cancer support group on a regular basis has been so helpful to me. We’re all in the same boat and can understand each other.”

• “I am more than my disease. Sometimes people forget I’m a mom, daughter, sister, teacher, friend and good neighbor. It’s hard when people just see me for my cancer diagnosis and don’t remember I’m still me.”

• “I’m very grateful for the cards and notes and emails from people just saying ‘I’m thinking of you’ or ‘sending positive thoughts your way.’” My friend contends it’s never too late to send a card, even weeks after surgery, or at intervals during the long months of chemotherapy and radiation treatment.
The emotional boost the cards and notes bring is very welcome at any time.

Keeping in mind that these suggestions do not apply to everyone, the insight and thoughtfulness is very much appreciated. It is food for thought as we strive to be sensitive and supportive for our family and friends living with cancer.

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, August 22, 2016


Never too late to learn something new about nutrition

Since May, I have had the pleasure of working with Brenda Viens. She is a young, enthusiastic, knowledgeable registered dietitian. I didn’t think there was much that a 20-something dietitian could teach me, an experienced registered nurse who has been grocery shopping and cooking for my family for 40-plus years. I was so confident, I challenged Brenda to tell me “five things I didn’t know about nutrition and healthy eating.”

Here is what she came up with:

Lycopene is a fat soluble antioxidant that supports cardiovascular health, and may suppress tumor growth. You may not know that lycopene protects the tomato against ultraviolet rays and that new research suggests it may do the same for us. In one study, participants who consumed a lycopene-rich product experienced less erythema after sun exposure. Applying sunscreen and avoiding sun exposure between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. are still the most effective ways to avoid sunburn, but eating lycopene-rich tomatoes and tomato products may just provide a little extra protection.

Prepared mustard is not just a flavorful and low calorie substitute for mayonnaise. My grandmother had a tiny jar and spoon just for making mustard. She used this condiment for anything from sandwiches to steak and she would occasionally massage it on her joints. Mustard seed has strong anti-inflammatory properties and a topical application of the crushed seeds has a warming effect that suppresses joint and muscle aches.

Turmeric, the spice that gives mustard and Indian dishes a vibrant golden color, also has potent anti-inflammatory properties and has been used for thousands of years as an alternative therapy for joint and muscle aches. Try adding turmeric to soup, or mix it with a little olive oil then drizzle over chicken or fish. An added bonus is that sprinkling turmeric on your toothbrush is a natural way to whiten your teeth.

Unrefined and virgin oils are always a better choice compared to refined oils, right? It depends on how you use them. Extra virgin olive oil and other unrefined oils, such as flaxseed oil, are smart choices for salad dressings but should not be used for sautéing. Why? The antioxidants, enzymes, and minerals that contribute to the health benefits of unrefined oils are damaged when exposed to high temperatures. Therefore, unrefined oils have a low smoke point. Oil heated past the smoke point begins to produce fumes and free radicals that are harmful to your health. So look for the smoke point on the label and select oils that have been refined for high heat such as: canola, peanut, safflower and vegetable oils.

• Ever heard of a guilt-free “cookie dough?” This yummy, low calorie, egg-free treat is meant to be spooned right out of the mixing bowl. Blend until creamy: one 14 ounce can chickpeas, 1½ cups softened dates (or sweeten to taste with ¼ - ½ cup honey), a splash of vanilla extract, ¼ cup nut butter, a pinch of salt, ½ tsp cinnamon, and 2 tablespoons quick oats (optional). Thin with milk to desired consistency, and then fold in dark chocolate, dried fruit, or nuts. Serve with apple slices, celery sticks, or whole grain crackers.

I made the cookie dough recipe and it was delicious. My husband was surprised when I told him it was made from chickpeas. Brenda has taught me that no matter how experienced you are, it’s never too late to learn something new about nutrition and healthy eating.

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, August 15, 2016


Working toward a better understanding of autism

It is not surprising that a quick Google search reveals that autism has held a central place in the media for years, yet much of the discussion is filled with confusion and misunderstanding. What is the cause of autism? What is the progression? How does autism present? How can we treat people diagnosed with this disorder? There are no simple answers to these questions, and yet the progress we have made in recent years related to autism have brought improvements in diagnosis and increased resources for families. Despite continued progress, a diagnosis of autism can be especially difficult for parents to understand and manage.

When you take your child to the pediatricians you are asked to fill out an autism screening tool known as the Modified Checklist for Autism in Children (MChAT). It asks 20 questions such as “Does your child get upset by everyday noises?” and “Does your child respond when you call his or her name?” While you may be unaware of its purpose when you are filling it out, the MCHAT is a preliminary screening tool in the diagnosis of autism. It does not provide a diagnosis but rather targets children that need further testing for autism. However, parents do not have to rely solely on the MCHAT if they have concerns regarding their child as it is merely meant as a screening tool.

Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrician Sarah Schlegel, MD, of Connecticut Children’s Medical Center, recommends discussing any concerns first and foremost with the child’s pediatrician. Further steps are age dependent. The "Birth to Three" program in Connecticut can be utilized for children under three and can be contacted through the Child Development Infoline at 211 or 800.505.7000. If the child is over three and in school, parents can request an evaluation from their school district's special education program. If the child is not in school yet, parents can still turn to the central office or local school for evaluation.

An autism diagnosis can be a scary time for a family, however it is not necessary to deal with it alone. Your child’s pediatrician can serve as your primary resource for further guidance. This may include working with a developmental-behavioral pediatrician, special education in school districts, and utilizing state and nation specific resources. Dr. Schlegel recommends Autism Services and Resources Connecticut. In addition, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has a list of resources for families.

It is important to realize that autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning that it can present in a range of ways. It will not present the same way in every child. Some children have greater challenges with social interaction, while others have difficulty with verbalization and may even be unable to talk. Still other children may be hypersensitive to sounds, smells, sights, or tactile stimulation. There is no clear-cut presentation, so there is no single treatment method. This is what can make it so challenging to help children with autism and can also make it difficult for parents and family members to understand how the child sees and experiences their environment.

In his article in Forbes entitled “Experience What if Feels Like to Have Autism,” Robert Szczerba, a father of an autistic child, compiles six online videos that can help others understand how some children with autism experience their environments. Many of the videos are created by children with autism and provide a powerful insight into how simple everyday activities like walking down the street or watching TV can take on a whole new meaning for someone with an autism diagnosis. While it certainly does not capture what every child experiences, resources like this are beginning to help others understand the world through the eyes of an autistic child. This can help family members make sense of some of their child’s behaviors and can provide important insights into how we can best help these children.

A diagnosis of autism can be scary, there is no denying that. However, progress in medicine, technology, and an increased awareness of autism have put us in a place to better understand and help children diagnosed with autism. There is a renewed sense of hope that we can do more for these children than we were ever able to before.

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, August 08, 2016


The wonders of massage therapy

There are few things more pleasant and relaxing than getting a massage. Massage has been practiced for thousands of years. According to WebMD, there are more than 80 massage therapy styles with a wide variety of pressures, movements, and techniques. These all involve pressing, rubbing, or manipulating muscles and other soft tissues with hands and fingers. Sometimes even forearms, elbows or feet are used.

For her birthday this year, we gave my mother a gift certificate for an hour-long massage from my friend Lisa Mazzaro, owner of “All About You” Massage in Gales Ferry. After her massage, my mother said that was the best possible gift we could have given her. Lisa says, “There is no age restriction on massage. From infants to elderly, massage techniques can be adapted to fit your needs.” My mother certainly supports that premise since she just celebrated her 95th birthday.

Besides simple relaxation, numerous studies have proven the health benefits of massage therapy, including:

Back pain relief. Massage has been shown to relieve back pain and stiffness and improve function.
Headache pain relief. Another type of pain — headache — also responds to massage therapy, as shown by more than one study. Massage therapy may possibly reduce the number of migraines a person has.
Improved sleep. Insomnia is associated with a lack of serotonin. Massage increases serotonin levels.
Relieve depression and decrease stress. According to WebMD, A review of more than 12 studies shows that massage helps relieve depression and anxiety. It can lower levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, by up to 50 percent.

It’s important to take a health history prior to the massage so the therapist is aware of any health conditions and can subsequently tailor the treatment to the person. Some therapists require a physician’s note for people with certain health conditions before getting a massage.

Massage therapy is one of the services offered for cancer patients at the Center for Healthcare Integration (CHI) located in the Hartford HealthCare Cancer Institute at Backus Hospital. Used as a complement to traditional Western medicine, massage can promote relaxation and reduce cancer symptoms or side effects of treatment. It may help reduce pain, swelling, fatigue, nausea or depression, for example, or improve the function of one’s immune system. It is important to note massage therapy doesn’t replace conventional cancer treatment — it is a supplement that may enhance its effect.

I am a convert to the benefits of massage therapy. It even helped me simplify my gift list next year: a gift certificate for a massage therapy session for everyone on my list.

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, August 01, 2016


Berries: Why we should be eating more of them.

A little girl toddles from behind a blueberry bush at a local orchard. Cheeks covered in berry juice she grins, points and says “booberry.” We should be all agog for berries like this little girl because they are one of the healschnthiest foods on the planet.

Berries have four times more antioxidant activity than most other fruits, and ten times more than most vegetables. Antioxidants reduce oxidative stress and chronic disease risk by scavenging potentially harmful free oxygen radicals. Berries are also packed with vitamin C, fiber, magnesium and potassium. One cup of raspberries is only 65 calories and provides 53% of the daily value for vitamin C, and 32% of the daily value for fiber.

Overall, dietary surveys reveal that berry-rich diets are associated with: healthy body weight, a reduction in risk factors for cardiovascular disease, and improvements in mood and cognitive function. The health benefits of berries have been in the news for a long time so it is surprising that berry consumption remains so low.

On average, a person living in the United States consumes one white potato a day and a mere one tablespoon of berries per week. The bottom line is that berries are low in calories, and rich in nutrients that support overall health and wellbeing. We need to eat more of them.

Set a reasonable goal such as one half cup of berries each day. To achieve this goal, consider adding berries to your diet in new ways. Try them in yogurt, smoothies, and salads. Use a toothpick to dip berries in yogurt, and freeze on a lined cookie sheet to make a frosty snack kids will love. Or make this fresh blueberry sauce and serve it as a healthy alternative to pancake syrup or as a dipping sauce for chicken tenders and kebabs.

Fresh Blueberry Sauce (recipe inspired by Nigella Lawson)
Bring to a boil, and then simmer two to three minutes:
¼-½ cup maple syrup (to taste)
1½ cups blueberries, fresh or frozen
Optional additions: vanilla bean, cinnamon stick, orange zest

Does cooking destroy the nutritional value of berries? No. Cooking actually rearranges the shape of the antioxidant molecules in berries enabling you to absorb more of them. Berries in any form (fresh, frozen, dried, and cooked) are good for you, but fresh berries are the highest in vitamin C which supports healthy hair, nails, and skin, and aids iron and calcium absorption.

Though berries are on the expensive side, you can save money by shopping savvy. Look for sales when shopping for fresh berries in the grocery store, and always open the clam-shell box to examine them. If you see juice or mold, skip them and go to the frozen department. Pay less per pound by purchasing frozen berries in bulk (five pound bags) and look for frozen wild blueberries which are higher in antioxidants than their cultivated cousins. Another way to save is by picking your own.

Visit to find a farm or orchard near you. In eastern Connecticut, strawberries are available in June, blueberries from mid July through August, and raspberries from July to the end of summer. Berries stay fresh three to seven days in the crisper drawer of the refrigerator. To extend their life, spread berries out in single layer on a lined cookie sheet, freeze until solid, and transfer to heavy duty storage bags. Frozen berries and other fruit keep well for 12-18 months.

Be well!

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

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