Friday, August 17, 2007


Spirituality can help the sick live longer

“I deserve to have hope.” These were the words Linda wrote in huge letters and hung on her living room wall after hearing the devastating news that her cancer was progressing and nothing could be done. I needed to be inspired, she said.

Until I heard her words I used to think of inspiration as something that happened at random when a wonderful creative idea seemed to come from nowhere rather than a way to connect with something deeper within us.

We know that hope and inspiration are directly linked to our cellular response and ability to heal, and conversely fear, depression and despair weaken our immune systems when we most need them to be strong.

Dr. Bernie Siegel, founder of Exceptional Cancer Patient (ECAP) support groups, noticed that the people who lived longer than their doctors expected were the ones who began to pay attention to their feelings, expressed their emotions, asked what this disease may be teaching them and became more spiritual.

He said “forgive yourself and others, live with hope, faith and love and watch the results in your life and the lives you touch.” He added, “I can’t promise you’ll live longer but I can definitely promise you’ll enjoy it more.”

Chi, ki, prana, and spirit are words from different cultures that essentially mean the same….our life force. Inspiration which literally means to breathe in or be in spirit, helps us to connect more fully with that life force or spirit that is always present. While reading this line, pause and breathe in and out slowly. Remembering and connecting with the life energy or spirit that is behind all of our thoughts and movements can be this simple.

We may be inspired by music, poetry, a great book, prayer, nature, laughter or just being still. However, when we are most afraid or feeling our weakest, inspiration often comes from another in kind words, acts of compassion, someone really taking the time to listen, generosity and the example of the lives of those who have dealt with the very challenges we are facing. We all have a turn at shoring someone up who is feeling broken or being the one who needs help, but like a dance we are all affected whether inspiring or being inspired.

In October, Backus Hospital is sponsoring two inspiring events to the community. A group of breast cancer survivors whose mission is to bring hope and vision to other women with the disease are presenting a fashion show, “Survivors in Fashion,” on Thursday, October 18, at Foxwoods Resort Casino.

Dr. Siegel, author and speaker, will present “Medicine, Miracles and the Art of Healing” on Tuesday, October 30, at the Holiday Inn in Norwich. The message they carry is the same… be fully alive and live with the spirit of joy; the quiet knowing that all is well, no matter what is happening in our lives.

To purchase tickets for Survivors in Fashion, call 823-6331. For more information about Dr. Siegel’s presentation, call 889-8331, ext. 2483.
– Amy Dunion, a registered nurse and licensed massage therapist, is Coordinator of The William W. Backus Hospital’s Center for Healthcare Integration. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. E-mail Dunion and all of the Healthy Living columnists at

Tuesday, August 07, 2007


Scleroderma is a rare but serious disease

Rheumatologists see a lot of rare illnesses that can affect anyone. One of them is scleroderma.

Scleroderma, also known as systemic sclerosis, is a chronic disease that causes skin thickening and tightening, and can involve fibrosis and other types of damage to internal body organs. This condition, thought to be an autoimmune disease, affects both adults and children, most commonly adult women. While effective treatments are available for some manifestations of the disease, scleroderma is not yet curable.

Here are some facts about the disease, according to the

There are actually several types of scleroderma and related diseases with complications ranging from minor to life-threatening. Therefore, the terminology describing the various forms of scleroderma can be confusing.
The two broad categories are:
-- “Localized scleroderma” which indicates distinct skin lesions
-- "Systemic sclerosis" (scleroderma) which indicates more uniform skin involvement and the potential for internal organ disease.

Systemic scleroderma is divided into two sub-sets: a) “limited” cutaneous systemic sclerosis (scleroderma) in which skin involvement is limited to forearms, hands, legs, feet, and face. Usually associated with CREST syndrome (Calcinosis cutis, Raynaud phenomenon, Esophageal dysmotility, Sclerodactyly, and Telangiectasia); and b) “diffuse” cutaneous systemic sclerosis (scleroderma), which can affect the skin over almost any body area.

The cause of scleroderma is not yet proven. Genetic factors appear to predispose patients to the disease, but whether scleroderma is the result of some combination of genetic factors and other exposures is unknown. For instance, some data suggests that exposure to industrial solvents or an environmental agent may play a role in predisposing to scleroderma.

Scleroderma is a relatively rare illness affecting only 75,000 – 100,000 people in the United States. Of these, 75% percent are women usually diagnosed between the ages of 30 and 50 years.

A scleroderma diagnosis is based primarily on a combination of a person's description of symptoms (history) and physical examination findings. Laboratory tests and x-rays may help in evaluating a patient with suspected scleroderma or find that someone actually has another disease, but no one test makes the diagnosis certain. For instance, blood tests for autoantibodies are often used in making the diagnosis, but the presence or absence of these antibodies is not, in and of itself, conclusive.

Unfortunately, while some things have proven effective in treating the disorder, scleroderma is not yet curable. Much research has gone into addressing the various manifestations of the disease, but no drug has been found that can stop or reverse the skin thickening, which is the hallmark of disease.

For Raynauds, we use Calcium channel blockers and other agents that can dilate blood vessels; For heart burn we use “proton pump inhibitors” – like prilosec.
Kidney involvement can occur and cause significant hypertension. “ACE inhibitors” – like vasotec are used to manage these symptoms.

Finally Lung involvement can be very serious in patients with Scleroderma, and involve the arteries or the parenchyma of the lung. There are some available treatments for management of lung involvement.

The bottom line is scleroderma is a rare but can have a significant impact on a person’s life. Much research is ongoing into new treatments for scleroderma. Patients and their families should know that experts remain optimistic and work towards a cure will continue.

Sandeep Varma, MD, is a rheumatologist and Medical Director at the Backus Arthritis Center, located at the Backus Outpatient Care Center in Norwich. This column should not replace advice or instruction from your personal physician. E-mail Varma and all of the Healthy Living columnists at

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