Monthly Archives: October 2016

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Celina Wilson, left, of Bridge of Hope Resource Center, and Zachary Jacobs, right, of Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, address community members who attended an educational forum at Port Jefferson high school Oct. 19. Photos by Alex Petroski

Port Jefferson high school played host to an educational forum on the ongoing addiction problem facing the community Oct. 19.

The forum, entitled The Adolescent Brain: Preventing High-Risk Behaviors, was presented by Bridge of Hope Resource Center, a Port Jefferson Station nonprofit created in 1998 with the goal of improving the lives of individuals in the community and is a strong advocate in the fight against addiction. Speakers featured a former Brookhaven National Lab scientist who specializes in addiction and the human brain, a doctor in the field of adolescent medicine at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital and the founder and president of the nonprofit.

Suffolk County has statistically been one of the greatest areas of concern in New York for heroin and opioid deaths in recent years, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Suffolk County Police Commissioner Tim Sini said the county has had more than 100 opioid-related overdoses for several consecutive years.

The issue is not just in New York. According to the CDC, from 2005 to 2014, drug overdose deaths have risen by 144 percent to 2,300 deaths in New York and 58 percent to 47,055 deaths in the nation.

Dr. Joanne Fowler has studied how the human brain changes as a result of drug use since the late 1980s at stops including Brookhaven National Lab. She shared some of her decades of findings with those in attendance.

“When you think about addiction, it’s a really complex problem, and you have many, many factors that play into it,” she said. “Addiction, I would call, the loss of control of a behavior even though it’s causing a lot of problems to the individual. It’s a very destructive behavior that the individual can’t stop even though they want to stop.”

Fowler said the age in which an individual begins a behavior, like using drugs, can play a large roll in addiction because the part of the brain susceptible to addiction takes time to mature.

“The frontal cortex is a very important part of the brain,” she said. “It matures very slowly, so you really don’t have a mature frontal cortex until your early twenties.”

Dr. Zachary Jacobs, who works as a counselor for children at Stony Brook, discussed some risk factors for children and adolescents that could lead down a path of addiction, and some are out of a parent’s control.

“We’ve heard a lot about what parents and family can do, and I’m here to say despite your best efforts, it still might not be enough,” he said. “Despite a strong family, great, open communication, sometimes adolescents are just going to become their own individuals that disagree with family and societal norms … peers become so much more important than family, I’m sorry to say that.”

He recommended open communication and education as a means to combat potentially addictive, hazardous behaviors in children and adolescents to at least avoid issues with addiction, but total prevention is not that simple, he said.

Celina Wilson started Bridge of Hope Resource Center. She is the mother of three children, and she identified several risk factors parents should look for as potential signs of addiction. Insecurity pertaining to body image or loneliness, stress, life-changing events such as a divorce or death in the family, bullying, failure or rejection, depression, academic challenges, failure in competitive sports, a need for acceptance and several others were the factors Wilson suggested parents should be wary of and could be the root of later addiction.

“We have to help our teens better understand the world,” Wilson said. “We have to explain and review risks with them as much as possible.”

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St. Charles Hospital nurses and other staff wear pink bracelets as a sign of support for Desiree Bielski-Stoff, who is battling breast cancer. Photo from Bielski-Stoff

By Rebecca Anzel

Registered nurse at St. Charles Hospital in Port Jefferson Desiree Bielski-Stoff knows what a lump feels like — she had a small one removed from her left breast when she was 20. Since then, she performed self-examinations regularly and, coupled with her medical knowledge, thought she was “pretty good” at self-assessment.

In September, Bielski-Stoff, who is now 37, was diagnosed with breast cancer. Less than a month later, she had a double mastectomy at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan.

Bielski-Stoff waits to enter the operating room before her double mastectomy Oct. 4. Photo from Bielski-Stoff
Bielski-Stoff waits to enter the operating room before her double mastectomy Oct. 4. Photo from Bielski-Stoff

“I was looking for something like that mass in my left breast, something I could feel,” she said. “It wasn’t like a lighted sign going ‘Bling Bling, you have cancer — you have a mass in your breast,’ and I think that’s what we think we’re supposed to be looking for.”

October is national Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and Bielski-Stoff has been sharing her story with friends and family in the hopes they will not have to go through what she experienced. Every two minutes, a woman in the U.S. is diagnosed with breast cancer, a disease that kills more than 40,000 women each year, according to Right at Home, a senior care organization.

On average, women develop breast cancer at age 61. Bielski-Stoff’s diagnosis rattled her family, friends and coworkers. She has worked at the hospital since 2004.

“It’s eye-opening for all of us — I’m her age, you know? You never know,” Kim Audiino, an emergency room nurse at St. Charles Hospital and friend of Bielski-Stoff, said. “I think people need to open their eyes and be more alert about checking themselves.”

Bielski-Stoff was getting dressed after taking a shower in August when out of the corner of her eye, she noticed her right breast collapsed when she lifted her arm. Her first thought, she said, was that it was due to the 10 pounds she recently lost for her sister’s upcoming wedding. Bielski-Stoff conducted a brief self-exam, finding nothing out of the ordinary — nothing was swollen and she did not feel any lumps.

She showed her gynecologist that Wednesday. Bielski-Stoff said the doctor cocked her head, commented that it looked like a dimple and gave her a script for a mammogram and an ultrasound. The doctor told her it was probably nothing but she wanted to be on the safe side.

Her appointment was Sept. 7 at St. Charles with Dr. Jane Marie Testa, a doctor her coworkers recommended after Bielski-Stoff insisted she wanted to see the best. George, her husband, had asked if she wanted him to go with her, but she said no — she did not want to make it a big deal.

“I remember driving there and pulling up in the parking lot and thinking, either this is going to go in a good way or it’s not,” Bielski-Stoff said, “like, this could be the last time I feel normal.”

The tests took a few hours. When they were over, Testa came in and said she wanted to show Bielski-Stoff a few things with the ultrasound. There was a spot on her left breast the doctor wanted to take a sample of, and one on her right. Then Testa hovered over another spot on her right breast and said she was sorry — it was cancer.

There was no question about what it was, Bielski-Stoff said. It was a classic presentation of a cancerous mass. It was irregularly shaped and had vascularity and calcifications. Questions were flying through her mind about whether her life was over, if she would be in pain and if she was going to be okay, she said.

“The feeling that comes over you when somebody says cancer is just, I started crying,” Bielski-Stoff said. “I thought, ‘How do I absorb this right now. It was everything all at once — fear, a lot of fear.”

Her sister’s wedding was that weekend, so she booked the biopsies for the following Wednesday. Then she set about trying to find a surgeon.

Bielski-Stoff’s insurance company told her there was only one in network near her, so she turned to her coworkers at St. Charles for advice. With the help of her supervisor and the head of human resources, Bielski-Stoff learned the doctors at Memorial Sloan Kettering were covered.

The surgeon gave her two options: either Bielski-Stoff could get a lumpectomy with radiation or she could get a mastectomy. She opted for a double mastectomy.

“I have to live with this. This is what I can live with,” she said about her decision. “I’m young, 37. I can’t spend the rest of my life panicking that I’m getting cancer again.”

“The feeling that comes over you when somebody says cancer is just, I started crying. I thought, ‘How do I absorb this right now. It was everything all at once — fear, a lot of fear.”

— Desiree Bielski-Stoff

Her surgery was Oct. 3. Two weeks later, all the drains were out and she was sore but doing well. The support from her friends at St. Charles helped her through the experience, she said. They visited her every day, bringing her flowers and food, watching movies with her, checking her dressings, helping her bathe and delivering her medicine from the pharmacy.

“We were pretty much her nanny 24/7 while her husband was working,” Audiino said. “She was never alone, and she had more care than anyone I’ve seen because she’s so well-known and well-liked. We love her to pieces.”

Audiino and another friend, Colleen Miller, raised just about $600 selling over 150 pink bracelets around the hospital. Her Facebook page is littered with pictures of coworkers wearing their bracelets — some say Faith, others say Hope and Survivor. The funds paid for the hotel room Bielski-Stoff’s husband stayed in the night before her surgery.

St. Charles is letting employees donate their vacation time to Bielski-Stoff. She has exhausted hers between her cancer experience and working on the hospital’s negotiating team.

“All of us at St. Charles wish Desiree the best of health — I am very proud of our staff for supporting Desiree during this difficult time,” Jim O’Connor, executive vice president and chief administrative officer at St. Charles, said in an email. “Their gesture also brings awareness to this important health issue and the need for screening and early detection.”

Others have been doing what they can to show their support as well. A former patient’s family drove to her house from the North Shore to drop off supermarket gift cards, and her sister set up a GoFundMe account.

Bielski-Stoff said this experience has been traumatic because it feels like she does not just have cancer, but all her friends and family do. Her diagnosis has made the people around her aware of the importance of conducting self-examinations and going to a doctor regularly.

“It made me have a different look on life and it definitely opened my eyes to making sure that I take care of myself and my children, and that all of my friends keep up with checking for themselves,” Miller, a nursing assistant at St. Charles, said. “In the meantime, we all have to be ‘Dezzy strong,’ as I call it, and be there for her while she’s recovering.”

Bielski-Stoff found out on Halloween she’ll need four months of chemotherapy. 

“That’s going to change me as well and make the fight a little bit harder,” she said.

Bielski-Stoff’s friend Jimmy Bonacasa is hosting a fundraiser for her at the Harbor Crab in Patchogue Sunday, Nov. 13, from 4 to 8 p.m. There is a suggested donation of $20.

This version was updated Nov. 1 to include Bielski-Stoff’s treatment plan.

The Suffolk County sheriff's department's emergency response team leads the racers out of the gates. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

The annual Patriot Run is more than a fundraiser, it’s a Shoreham-Wading River community get together and healer.

On Oct. 30 at Wildwood State Park, over 400 runners gather for the second annual Patriot Run to honor Thomas Cutinella, the Wildcats football player who was fatally injured in a football game in October 2014.

The 2.54-mile run — 54 being Cutinella’s jersey number — is sponsored by the Shoreham-Wading River’s athletic club. Memorial shirts and prizes were awarded to the top finishers, and there was a barbeque following the race.

Runners stop for the National Anthem before competing.
Runners stop for the National Anthem before competing.

“We don’t advertise this, and if we did, we would have a thousand people — [The event and the turnout] is remarkable and we’re happy to be here, it’s a good time,” said Frank Cutinella, Thomas’ father. “People don’t want to forget Tom, and it’s a way to stay positive.”

In a show of solidarity, the Suffolk County sheriff’s emergency response team led the race, carrying the American flag.

“We just wanted to show that the Suffolk County sheriff’s department supports the local community,” said Michael Poetta, one of the nine members to carry the flag. “We wanted to come out and honor Thomas Cutinella’s [memory].”

There were awards given out in four categories — girls and boys under 18 years old, and girls and boys over 18. Runners of all ages enjoyed the unusually pleasant temperature for the race that cost $25 to run in. All proceeds benefited the Thomas Cutinella Memorial Foundation and scholarship fund.

“It’s real nice that the community does this,” said Kevin Cutinella, Thomas’ younger brother. “It was [John] Regazzi’s idea — he put it together and it turned out well, so this is the second year the community comes out [to continue to do] good things for our family.”

Eric Dilisio crossed the finish line first. Photo by Bill Landon
Eric Dilisio crossed the finish line first. Photo by Bill Landon

Regazzi, a local community member, said he organized the event because he just wanted a nice community outing to support a worthy cause and remember Thomas Cutinella’s legacy.

“It’s a wonderful community,” Regazzi said of the area. “I wanted to bring people together to do something positive in honor of Thomas Cutinella. He was a positive person, a leader in the community, and I wanted to keep that spirit alive.”

First across the line was Shoreham resident Eric Dilisio, a sophomore at Shoreham-Wading River. He crossed the finish line in 14 minutes, six seconds, which was well ahead of the second-place finisher. The top finisher for the girls was Emily Cook, and first across the finish line for the adults was Alana Philcox and Jeff Kraebel.

Kraebel, of Rocky Point, said he only heard the race less than a couple hours before the start, and jumped on his motorcycle to cruise over, sign up and run in the race.

“I’m a firm believer in contact sports and letting the kids play, but after the tragedy I loved the community’s [response] — how everyone rallied — it didn’t terminate their season, it drove the kids to play better,” Kraebel said. “It’s the power of positivity, so it was my pleasure to drop $25 to come here and run today.”

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Although it may sound cliché, the Port Jefferson girls’ soccer team is more than a team — the Royals really are a family.

The current group of seniors has seen very little change over the last three years. They’ve formed a cohesive unit, bought into coaches Allyson Wolff and Michele Aponte’s system and specialize in doing the little things necessary to win. Having lost just two seniors to graduation in the last two years, they’ve created a unique atmosphere that’s helped them see state playoff action each of the last two seasons. Now the defending state champions are hungry for their second consecutive title.

On Oct. 28, the Royals took the next step toward achieving that goal. After going three straight seasons without a League VII loss, and losing just once the season before that, Port Jefferson claimed another county crown with an 8-0 blanking of Southold.

“In my opinion that was the best game we’ve ever played,” said senior co-captain Jillian Colucci, who netted a hat trick and two assists on five shots. “Our possession was on point and our connections were there.”

“When we played them earlier in the season they were really tight on defense, so we practiced pulling back our defense and spreading them out to have more room with the forwards.”

—Grace Swords

The Royals were relentless — producing 39 shots and eight corner kicks. Clearly Port Jefferson learned from their 1-1 tie to Southold back on Sept. 23.

“When we played them earlier in the season they were really tight on defense, so we practiced pulling back our defense and spreading them out to have more room with the forwards,” said senior Grace Swords, who scored once and assisted twice in the win.

Colucci was first to light up the scoreboard after her teammates made several attempts to knock one in past Southold’s junior goalkeeper Hayley Brigham. She scored on a through ball from senior defensive midfielder Mikayla Yanucci.

“She always finds the ball no matter where I kick it,” Yanucci said of her teammate. “I knew if I passed it in between players she’d go from wherever she was to get to it. She found the ball, and she finished it. That was a great way to start off the game.”

Once Port Jefferson gets the ball rolling it’s difficult to slow down their momentum.

Two minutes after scoring, Colucci added another goal off an assist from senior forward Brittany Fazin.

“We needed to possess the ball,” Fazin said. “We knew not to force it. They’re bigger than us and they’re better in the air, so we tried to keep it down on the ground, keep it low and move the ball around until we scored.”

Fazin moved to Port Jefferson last year, but she fit right in quickly with the other forwards. She was second on the Royals in goals in both of her seasons with the team.

“Playing together for the last few years helped us grow a connection with each other,” Fazin said. “We know where each other is going to go and where to pass to each other; who plays best where. Coming to Port Jefferson I never expected any of this. Being this successful with a team is something I never thought I’d experience in my life.”

“Playing together for the last few years helped us grow a connection with each other. We know where each other is going to go and where to pass to each other; who plays best where.”

—Brittany Fazin

Senior Alexa Wakefield and eighth-grader Hailey Hearney also added goals, before Colucci finished the game with her hat trick goal. While she receives the spotlight for scoring, Colucci said the team atmosphere and her surrounding Royals play major roles in her success.

“I’m playing with 10 other people I grew up playing with,” she said. “We have our own quirky things — our cheers and song for each season. It’s crazy that it’s our last ride, but we’re making memories to last a lifetime.”

Because of their bond and level of play to this point, Yannucci said if the team continues to play like it did in the county title game, they’re going to be back upstate this month. The defense put together another solid showing from the back line, led by senior co-captain Corinne Scannell. Junior goalkeeper Brianna Scarda barely saw any action, and neither did sophomore goalkeeper Sarah Hull in the game against Southold. Each had to make just one save. Despite the score, Brigham made 27 saves for Southold.

Port Jefferson will play in the Long Island championship game Nov. 5. The Royals do not know who their Nassau opponent will be, and the time and place has yet to be announced.

“We’re going to go out hard and never give up, because that’s how Port Jeff plays — we never give up,” Yanucci said, looking ahead to the next round. “These girls are literally my family and I’m going to be so upset when this is all over. I’m just so happy to share this experience with all of my best friends.”

Swords echoed her teammate’s sentiments.

“The pressure is on, but we are a good team,” she said. “This is our final year playing together and if we just keep our heads in the game and put everything we have into it, we’ll go far. This is all so surreal. We’ve become a family over the last three years and to finish it off with a state title is all we want.”

The Shoppes in Wading River is designed to resemble the square of a small town. Photo by Rebecca Anzel

By Rebecca Anzel

East Wind owner Ken Barra talks at the grand opening. Photo by Rebecca Anzel
East Wind owner Kenn Barra talks at the grand opening. Photo by Rebecca Anzel

East Wind in Wading River hosted a grand opening celebration Oct. 28 through 31 to celebrate its latest expansion — The Shoppes. It features 28 locally owned stores, eateries and a carousel.

East Wind owner Kenn Barra evolved the 26-acre property over the past 25 years — he started with a pizza place and added a venue for small weddings and parties, a 50-room inn and Long Island’s largest grand ballroom. He said the new addition of The Shoppes will create more local jobs, help the local economy and hopefully serve as an attraction for residents and travelers from all over Long Island.

“My vision was to create a destination where the local community and guests from The Inn will come and enjoy meeting shop owners and exploring and buying what they have to offer,” Barra said. “Giving local business people the opportunity to develop and grow is rewarding to me.”

The Shoppes are designed to resemble the square of a small town, with freestanding stores connected by a brick walkway. Every couple of feet are wooden benches and adirondack chairs. An indoor pavilion houses a carousel with hand-made horses and figures. East Wind also features 28 specialty retail and boutique shops, an ice cream parlor and a pizza place, all chosen by Barra.

“This is a totally different concept — this is a very ma-and-pa situation,” he said. “I’ve seen people now that I haven’t seen in three years, five years, 10 years strolling along, having a cup of coffee. Neighbors are meeting neighbors.”

A central square at The Shoppes in Wading River. Photo by Rebecca Anzel
A central square at The Shoppes in Wading River. Photo by Rebecca Anzel

Stores include The Crushed Olive, The Painted Canvas, North Fork Bridal, Little Miss Sew It All and Solntse Hot Yoga. Barra said about 70 percent of the spaces are currently occupied.

“The grand opening of The Shoppes at East Wind will usher in a new, welcoming family friendly destination on the eastern end of Long Island,” County Executive Steve Bellone said in an email. “I congratulate owner Ken Barra of East Wind Hotel and Spa for creating this addition of The Shoppes at East Wind. It will become a destination for local residents and tourists, and a year-round venue for local merchants and artisans to market Suffolk County-made items.”

Barra was presented with proclamations from the office of Town of Riverhead Supervisor Sean Walter (R), County Executive Steve Bellone (D), Congressman Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) and Assemblyman Anthony Palumbo (R-New Suffolk) at the ribbon-cutting ceremony on Oct. 28.

The Shoppes plans to host programs and activities throughout the year, such as a Christmas tree lighting and an Easter egg hunt. Fall and Halloween events were scheduled during the grand opening Oct. 28-31.

Alex Seel. Photo from Spencer Edelbaum

The School of Social Welfare at Stony Brook University, the Undergraduate Social Welfare Alliance (USWA) and the Protestant Campus Ministry will welcome Alex Seel, one of six participants in a challenging documentary, “Borderland,” on Saturday, Nov. 5, in the in the Health Sciences Tower (hospital side of campus), Level 3 Galleria and adjacent Lecture Hall 5 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The final episode of the series will be screened and Seel will share his experiences and answer questions.

A scene from 'Borderland'
A scene from ‘Borderland’

In this four-part television series, six Americans from varying backgrounds are confronted with the realities of undocumented migrant labor. The participants split into three groups and go to Mexico and Central America in order to retrace the footsteps of three migrants who did not survive the journey north. They discover the circumstances which led the migrants to risk their lives; they make their way north by riding atop a cargo train know as “La Bestia” or “The Beast”; they learn about the impact of Mexico’s drug wars on immigrants; they traverse the desert in which some 2500 migrants died the previous year. The journey leaves them shaken and changed. Borderland does not provide answers to the problem of undocumented immigration, but it shows the humanity of everyone involved in the process.

Undocumented migrant labor is a compelling issue that all of us face, and the debate over immigration policies brings out deep passions, but it is divorced from our day to day experience. The show presents the full complexity of the issue, and the participants come away with something desperately needed in the debate—empathy. After viewing the documentary, you will not look at the issue of undocumented immigration the same way again. Free and open to all. For more information, email sbu.uswa@gmail.com.

For Free parking: 

From 25A to Nicolls Rd., Rt to West Campus on Shirley Kenny Drive,
Immediate left on Circle Rd. to the stop sign then there is an entrance to free parking. Walk through the underpass to Health Sciences tower. Go up the escalator 1 flight. Parking here on weekends is free.

(From 347, left on Shirley Kenny Drive)

For paid parking:
From 25 A, left on Health Sciences Drive and follow the signs to the main entrance of the hospital and hospital garage or use Valet parking if you wish. Enter hospital lobby and ask at the registration desk for the Health Science tower escalators.

From 347, right on Health Sciences Drive.

Athi Varuttamaseni. Photo couresty of BNL

By Daniel Dunaief

Athi Varuttamaseni is like an exterminator, studying ways pests can gain entry into a house, understanding the damage they can cause and then coming up with prevention and mitigation strategies. Except that, in Varuttamaseni’s case, the house he’s defending is slightly more important to most neighborhoods: They are nuclear power plants.

The pests he’s seeking to keep out or, if they enter, to expel and limit the damage, are cyberattackers, who might overcome the defenses of a plant’s digital operating system and cause a range of problems.

Varuttamaseni, an assistant scientist in the Nuclear Science & Technology Department at Brookhaven National Laboratory, started his career at BNL by modeling the failure of software used in nuclear power plant protection systems. Last year, he shifted toward cybersecurity. “We’re looking at what can go wrong with nuclear power plants” if they experience an attack on the control and protection systems, he said.

Varuttamaseni is part of a team that received a grant from the Department of Energy to look at the next generation of nuclear power plants, which are controlled and managed mostly by digital systems. A few existing plants are also looking to replace some of their analog systems with digital. “We asked what can go wrong if a hacker somehow managed to breach the outer perimeter and get in to control the system, or even if that is possible at all,” he said. By looking at potential vulnerabilities in the next generation of power plants, engineers can find a problem or potential problem ahead of time and can “go back to the drawing board to put in additional protection systems that could save the industry significant cost in the long run,” Varuttamaseni said.

Robert Bari, a physicist at BNL and a collaborator on the cybersecurity work, said Varuttamaseni, who is the lead investigator on the Department of Energy project, played “a major role” in putting together a recent presentation Bari gave at UC Berkeley that outlined some of the threats, impacts and technical and institutional challenges. The presentation included a summary and the next steps those running or designing nuclear power plants can take. Bari said it was a “delight” to collaborate with Varuttamaseni.

A colleague, Louis Chu, had recruited Varuttamaseni to work at BNL in another program, and Bari said he “recognized his abilities” and “we started to collaborate.” Varuttamaseni and Bari are going through a systematic analysis using logic trees and other approaches to explore vulnerabilities. The BNL team, which is collaborating with scientists at Idaho National Laboratory, shared the information and analysis they conducted with the Department of Energy and with an industrial collaborator.

In his second year of the work, Varuttamaseni said he is looking at the system level and is pointing out potential weaknesses in the design. He then shares that analysis with designers, who can shore up any potential problems. In the typical analysis of threats to nuclear power plants, the primary concern is of the release of radioactive material that could harm people who work at the plants or live in the communities around the facility.

Varuttamaseni, however, is exploring other implications, including economic damage or a loss of confidence in the industry. That includes the headline risk attached to an incident in which an attacker controlled systems other than a safety function and that are not critical to the operation of a plant. In addition to exploring vulnerabilities, Varuttamaseni is studying a plant’s response. Most of the critical systems are air-gapped, which means that the computer has no physical or wireless connection. While this provides a layer of protection against cyberattacks, it isn’t flawless or impenetrable. An upgrade of the hardware or patching of a hardware system might create just the kind of opening that would enable a hacker to pounce.

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission and the industry are “aware of those scenarios,” Varuttamaseni said. “There are procedures in place and mitigation steps that are taken to prevent those kinds of attacks.” Ideally, however, the power plant would catch any would-be attacker early in the process. Varuttamaseni is working on three grants that are related to systems at nuclear power plants. In addition to cyberattacks, he is also analyzing software failures in the protection system and, finally, he’s also doing statistical testing of protection systems.

Varuttamaseni, who was born in Thailand, lives in Middle Island. He appreciates that Long Island is less crowded than New York City and describes himself as an indoor person. He enjoys the chance to read novels, particularly science fiction and mysteries. He also likes the moderate weather on Long Island compared to Bangkok, although threats from hurricanes are new to him. Next June, Varuttamaseni will present a paper on cybersecurity at the American Nuclear Society’s Nuclear Plant Instrumentation, Control & Human-Machine Interface Technology Conference in San Francisco.

Varuttamaseni is “always on the lookout for insights into possible attack pathways that an attacker could come up with,” he said. “The mitigating factor of my work is that we’re looking at a longer-term problem. There’s still time to [work with] many of these potential vulnerabilities.”

Volunteers at a previous Dickens Festival in Port Jefferson line up for the Giant Puppet Parade. Photo by Heidi Sutton
Volunteers from last year's Dickens Festival in Port Jefferson. Photo by Bob Savage
Volunteers from last year’s Dickens Festival in Port Jefferson. Photo by Bob Savage

Here ye! Here ye! Are you looking to volunteer? Do you need community service or acting experience? The Port Jefferson Dickens Festival committee is seeking adults, teens, children and parent chaperones for street character plays and performances including “Scrooge’s Dream” and “Oliver’s Adventures” to be held at the 21st annual Charles Dickens Festival on Dec. 3 and 4. Many key roles are available including Marley’s Ghost and Tiny Tim along with student improv groups, caroling groups and Newsies.

Choose your level of time commitment. Some positions only require availability during the festival. Rehearsals for the street performances are held on either Tuesdays or Thursdays from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the Port Jefferson Village Center, 101A E. Broadway, Port Jefferson.

For adult street character plays and Dickens regulars contact Karen at GPJAC.theater@gmail.com. For students interested in performing and community service contact Carolyn at 631-741-6698 or Jill at 631-418-6699.

A diet rich in fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and oily fish may prevent breast cancer. Stock photo

By David Dunaief, M.D.

NFL players are wearing pink shoes and other sportswear this month, making a fashion statement to highlight Breast Cancer Awareness Month. This awareness is critical since annual invasive breast cancer incidence in the U.S. is 246,000 new cases, with approximately 40,000 patients dying from this disease each year (1). The good news is that from 1997 to 2008 there was a trend toward decreased incidence by 1.8 percent (2).

We can all agree that screening has merit. The commercials during NFL games tout that women in their 30s and early 40s have discovered breast cancer with a mammogram, usually after a lump was detected. Does this mean we should be screening earlier? Screening guidelines are based on the general population that is considered “healthy,” meaning no lumps were found, nor is there a personal or family history of breast cancer.

All guidelines hinge on the belief that mammograms are important, but at what age? Here is where divergence occurs; experts can’t agree on age and frequency. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends mammograms starting at 50 years old, after which time they should be done every other year (3). The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends mammograms start at 40 years old and be done annually (4). Your decision should be based on a discussion with your physician.

The best way to treat breast cancer — and just as important as screening — is prevention, whether it is primary, preventing the disease from occurring, or secondary, preventing recurrence. We are always looking for ways to minimize risk. What are some potential ways of doing this? These may include lifestyle modifications, such as diet, exercise, obesity treatment and normalizing cholesterol levels. Additionally, although results are mixed, it seems that bisphosphonates do not reduce the risk of breast cancer nor its recurrence. Let’s look at the evidence.

Bisphosphonates

Bisphosphonates include Fosamax (alendronate), Zometa (zoledronic acid) and Boniva (ibandronate) used to treat osteoporosis. Do they have a role in breast cancer prevention? It depends on the population, and it depends on study quality.

In a meta-analysis involving two randomized controlled trials, results showed there was no benefit from the use of bisphosphonates in reducing breast cancer risk (5). The population used in this study involved postmenopausal women who had osteoporosis, but who did not have a personal history of breast cancer. In other words, the bisphosphonates were being used for primary prevention.

The study was prompted by previous studies that have shown antitumor effects with this class of drugs. This analysis involved over 14,000 women ranging in age from 55 to 89. The two trials were FIT and HORIZON-PFT, with durations of 3.8 and 2.8 years, respectively. The FIT study involved alendronate and the HORIZON-PFT study involved zoledronic acid, with these drugs compared to placebo. The researchers concluded that the data were not evident for the use of bisphosphonates in primary prevention of invasive breast cancer.

In a previous meta-analysis of two observational studies from the Women’s Health Initiative, results showed that bisphosphonates did indeed reduce the risk of invasive breast cancer in patients by as much as 32 percent (6). These results were statistically significant. However, there was an increase in risk of ductal carcinoma in situ (precancer cases) that was not explainable. These studies included over 150,000 patients with no breast cancer history. The patient type was similar to that used in the more current trial mentioned above. According to the authors, this suggested that bisphosphonates may have an antitumor effect. But not so fast!

The disparity in the above two bisphosphonate studies has to do with trial type. Randomized controlled trials are better designed than observational trials. Therefore, it is more likely that bisphosphonates do not work in reducing breast cancer risk in patients without a history of breast cancer or, in other words, in primary prevention.

In a third study, a meta-analysis (group of 36 post-hoc analyses — after trials were previously concluded) using bisphosphonates, results showed that zoledronic acid significantly reduced mortality risk, by as much as 17 percent, in those patients with early breast cancer (7). This benefit was seen in postmenopausal women but not in premenopausal women. The difference between this study and the previous study was the population. This was a trial for secondary prevention, where patients had a personal history of cancer.

However, in a RCT, the results showed that those with early breast cancer did not benefit overall from zoledronic acid in conjunction with standard treatments for this disease (8). The moral of the story: RCTs are needed to confirm results, and they don’t always coincide with other studies.

Exercise

We know exercise is important in diseases and breast cancer is no exception. In an observational trial, exercise reduced breast cancer risk in postmenopausal women significantly (9). These women exercised moderately; they walked four hours a week. The researchers stressed that it is never too late to exercise, since the effect was seen over four years. If they exercised previously, but not recently, for instance, five to nine years ago, no benefit was seen.

To make matters worse, only about one-third of women get the recommended level of exercise every week: 30 minutes for five days a week. Once diagnosed with breast cancer, women tend to exercise less, not more. The NFL, which does an admirable job of highlighting Breast Cancer Awareness Month, should go a step further and focus on the importance of exercise to prevent breast cancer or its recurrence, much as it has done to help motivate kids to exercise with it Play 60 campaign.

Soy intake

Contrary to popular belief, soy may be beneficial in reducing breast cancer risk. In a meta-analysis (a group of eight observational studies), those who consumed more soy saw a significant reduction in breast cancer compared to those who consumed less (10). There was a dose-response curve among three groups: high intake of >20 mg per day, moderate intake of 10 mg and low intake of <5 mg.

Those in the highest group had a 29 percent reduced risk, and those in the moderate group had a 12 percent reduced risk, when compared to those who consumed the least. Why have we not seen this in U.S. trials? The level of soy used in U.S. trials is a fraction of what is used in Asian trials. The benefit from soy is thought to come from isoflavones, plant-rich nutrients.

Western vs. Mediterranean diets

A Mediterranean diet may decrease the risk of breast cancer significantly.
A Mediterranean diet may decrease the risk of breast cancer significantly.

In an observational study, results showed that, while the Western diet increases breast cancer risk by 46 percent, the Spanish Mediterranean diet has the inverse effect, decreasing risk by 44 percent (11). The effect of the Mediterranean diet was even more powerful in triple-negative tumors, which tend to be difficult to treat. The authors concluded that diets rich in fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts and oily fish were potentially beneficial.

Hooray for Breast Cancer Awareness Month stressing the importance of mammographies and breast self-exams. However, we need to give significantly more attention to prevention of breast cancer and its recurrence. Through potentially more soy intake, as well as a Mediterranean diet and modest exercise, we may be able to accelerate the trend toward a lower breast cancer incidence.

References: (1) breastcancer.org. (2) J Natl Cancer Inst. 2011;103:714-736. (3) Ann Intern Med. 2009;151:716-726. (4) Obstet Gynecol. 2011;118:372-382. (5) JAMA Inter Med online. 2014 Aug. 11. (6) J Clin Oncol. 2010;28:3582-3590. (7) 2013 SABCS: Abstract S4-07. (8) Lancet Oncol. 2014;15:997-1006. (9) Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev online. 2014 Aug. 11. (10) Br J Cancer. 2008;98:9-14. (11) Br J Cancer. 2014;111:1454-1462.

Dr. Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, visit www.medicalcompassmd.com or consult your personal physician.

Samantha Carroll and Jeremy Hudson sing ‘Follow Your Heart’ in a scene from ‘Urinetown.’ Photo courtesy of the SCPA

By Rebecca Anzel

“Urinetown: The Musical,” currently in production at the Smithtown Performing Arts Center through Nov. 6, has received rave reviews. The two lead characters, Hope Cladwell and Bobby Strong, are played by real-life couple Samantha Carroll and Jeremy Hudson. I sat down with the two actors on Saturday night before the show to ask them about their latest roles.

Samantha Carroll and Jeremy Hudson sing ‘Follow Your Heart’ in a scene from ‘Urinetown.’ Photo courtesy of SCPA
Samantha Carroll and Jeremy Hudson sing ‘Follow Your Heart’ in a scene from ‘Urinetown The Musical.’ Photo courtesy of SCPA

How did you two meet?

S: The first time we actually met was here at Smithtown Theater years ago when we both auditioned for Light in the Piazza, which was my first show. Jeremy didn’t make the cut but we read together on stage and I remembered it and I found him on Facebook—

J: She Facebook stalked me throughout college.

S: I just was like, “I read with this guy and he’s nice.” We became closer friends at the Engeman. We started doing children’s theater there together and he was in a production of White Christmas that I was a dresser.

J: Even before that though — Little Women.

S: Oh god yeah, and then we did Little Women together at CM. Our friendship and love, eventually, has come through working at all these different theaters. But we did actually meet at the Smithtown Center for the Performing Arts years ago. And here we are.

J: It was a long time ago. 2007.

What is it like being engaged to each other and starring opposite each other in a show?

S: I mean, it’s like any other day really. We met doing shows together so I guess it’s normal. It’s easier to learn the lines. I trust him on stage. Our families are even more excited than we are.

J: Yeah, it’s a fun opportunity that’s few and far between. It’s a chance to have both of our lives kind of converge at one point to be able to do a show like this together. We try and make the most of the time we have doing this show because —

S: We don’t know when it’ll come again to work together, so it’s very nice.

Photo courtesy of SCPA  Samantha Carroll and Jeremy Hudson in a scene from ‘Urinetown The Musical.' Photo courtesy of SCPA
Photo courtesy of SCPA
Samantha Carroll and Jeremy Hudson in a scene from ‘Urinetown The Musical.’ Photo courtesy of SCPA

What other theaters have you both worked in?

S: Together, we worked at CM Performing Arts Center in Oakdale and the John W. Engeman in Northport. This is definitely our biggest roles together. Playing opposite each other is really, it’s silly but we’re both serious enough that we don’t just burst out laughing.

J: We can keep it together for five minutes.

 

You said that you performed at this theater in a teen production. Have you done any other shows here?

S: I have. I’ve been here my whole theater life. I’ve done many of the Wonderettes shows — they’re doing another Wonderettes coming this May and June. Light in the Piazza was my first really big one. Most recently, I’ve been in Violet, which was a really big favorite, and we were both actually in First Date together a few months ago as well.

J: Last March. More than a few months at this point.

S: But yeah, I was in Little Mermaid. The list goes on and on. And Jeremy’s worked here before as well.

J: I haven’t done quite as much but I have done a few shows in the past. I did Assassins here, I did Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson was another one I did here.

How old were you each when you decided that you wanted to be an actor? What attracted you to the profession?

S: I think I was probably about 6 or 7 when I started to be interested in it. My mom took me to see Beauty and the Beast on Broadway and at that point I was like, “Oh, well I have to be Belle.” I mean, I’m still waiting. I think my first acting class was probably at 8 years old and then I started singing lessons in sixth grade, so once I got to high school, I realized that this is what I want to do for the rest of my life. Beauty and the Beast, those princesses and those villains, inspired me to be where I am.

J: And I was in high school, I guess. My brother — my older brother, 10 years my senior so much older brother — used to do theater and growing up I would always go with my parents to see him do shows pretty consistently, so it was always kind of a part of my life. And then I did one myself and I was like, “Hey this is fun.” My first show was Grease, and then Guys and Dolls. I just enjoyed doing it, and having been a part of it my entire life, I just kind of slid into it myself.

Samantha Carroll in a scene from 'Urinetown The Musical," Photo courtesy of SCPA
Samantha Carroll in a scene from ‘Urinetown The Musical,” Photo courtesy of SCPA

Do you ever get nervous on stage?

S: For sure. Nerves are good, though, because it means you care about it and it keeps you focused.

J: The thing is, I forget there are audiences there, so I just am doing it and because I’ve done it so many times now, I’m used to people watching me do whatever. The only time I get more nervous, so to speak, is if I start to really think about it. Sometimes I’ll be on stage doing a scene and, not to say I won’t be in the moment, but I’ll just think, “I’m standing on a stage and there are people staring at me.” And then at that point what I’m doing starts to sink in, and then maybe at that point.

S: We don’t stay up at night thinking how terrifying it is to be on stage, or we wouldn’t do it. I think we get just general butterflies, especially when your parents are in the audience. You just want to be good. We’re perfectionists, unfortunately, to a fault.

What is it like watching each other perform?

S: It’s so cool. I do some stuff in Millbrook Playhouse in Pennsylvania, and Jeremy has come out to to see me in everything. I always just wait to hear what he has to say, because those mean the most to me. His words and his critiques, he doesn’t have many.

J: Not to her face at least.

S: And seeing Jeremy is amazing too. I got to see him in 1776 last year.

J: You don’t get to see me do as much as I see you.

S: He sees me a little more because he works a big-boy job too.

J: One of the many reasons we’re going to get married is just because it’s nice to share similar interests in this because it is a very time-consuming, very all-encompassing profession job. Being an actor or actress takes a lot out of you, so to be on the same page and to have that point of reference or common ground, so to speak, between the two of us is good.

What is it like when you get a standing ovation?

S: It’s not expected, but it’s very nice when it happens.

J: It’s good that an audience is that invested because it takes a lot to sit through a show, even a show you like, and then feel the need to stand up and show your appreciation for it afterwards means a lot.

Jeremy Hudson and cast in a scene from ‘Urinetown The Musical.’ Photo courtesy of SCPA
Jeremy Hudson and cast in a scene from ‘Urinetown The Musical.’ Photo courtesy of SCPA

Has anything strange ever happened out in the audience that you noticed while on stage?

J: All the time. People on their cell phones, people falling asleep.

S: Snoring!

J: People eating.

S: Choking. We’ve done so much children’s theater together, the kids are, you know, they just scream the whole time. We’ve seen it all.

J: Audiences feel like because they’re sitting in a dark theater that people don’t see them. But lo and behold, being on stage you see everyone and everything. I look out and scan the audience every once in awhile. If you’re doing something weird, I will see you, and we will be talking about you. Being an audience member requires just as much investment as being a performer on the stage. It’s why I don’t like sitting in the front row myself because I feel like I’m a part of the performance as well, because the actors can see you. They can see you throughout the show.

S: And they will look at you. It’s actually easy to see the front row, but a lot of other rows are harder to see. It depends on the cues, but you can always see the first row.

J: Always.

What is your dream role?

S: Currently — they change all the time — I would love to be Alice in Bright Star who was played by Carmen Cusack on Broadway.  And I would die and go to heaven to be anything in Waitress.

J: I mean, who doesn’t want to be in Le Mis, but I would like to play Jean Valjean in Les Misérables again. I did it in a teen production ten years ago, so I would like to do that again in a real production. That would be fun.

Do you have theaters in mind that you want to work in?

J: Anything between 7th and 8th Avenues between 42nd and 49th Street would be great.

S: Any theater that’s going to be professional and lovely, we would love to work at.

What attracted you to “Urinetown the Musical”? What made you want to audition?

S: I actually did “Urinetown” at the same theater 10 years ago in the teen production and I played Hope — the same part. I found out they were doing it again and Ken [Washington], the director, had talked to me about if I would like to reprise my role but on the main stage. I said absolutely. It’s a strange show, but it’s very funny and I like to be Hope so I wanted to do it again.

J: I saw the actual show 10 years ago and I have always liked it and wanted to be a part of it. It’s always been on my short list of shows to do, so I’m glad I’ve gotten the opportunity to do it at this point.

What is it like working with the director?

S: I have worked with Ken since I was 16 years old and he has seen me grow up. He is still the fun, grumpy man I remember he was, but you know, I think Ken has such a passion for theater. It’s definitely rubbed off in a good way. We love Ken.

J: He cares a great deal and he has a wealth of knowledge as far as theater goes, so it’s definitely something that is good to tap in to from time to time.

What is it like working with the cast?

S: Well, this cast specifically is a lot of, as we like to say, Long Island notables, just people who have kind of been doing this for such a long time. We’re very luck, honestly. A lot of big personalities, but in a really great way.

J: It’s a very eclectic group of people. All bring individual strengths [to the stage].

 

What is your favorite scene and song in the show?

S: My favorite scene and song is definitely “Follow Your Heart.” I’ve always loved it. “Be still, Hear it beating, It’s leading you, Follow your heart” was actually my yearbook quote for high school. It’s funny, it’s heartfelt and I get to do it with the best partner in the world.

J: I enjoy the scene leading up to “Run Freedom Run!” and that song. It’s just fun because it’s a bunch of strange people and it’s just very funny. It’s 80 percent the same every night and 20 percent slightly different, which always keeps things interesting.

Michael Newman and Samantha Carroll in a scene from 'Urinetown The Musical.' Photo from SCPA
Michael Newman and Samantha Carroll in a scene from ‘Urinetown The Musical.’ Photo from SCPA

Why should people come see the show?

S: If you ask any theater person at all, they’ll say to you, “‘Urinetown’ is the best,” or, “I love ‘Urinetown’.” I’ve been in it three times. It’s just one that people who don’t usually come to see theater don’t always come to, but they really should because it’s very, very funny. Hilarity ensues.

J: It’s just such an original piece of theater. The show came out in the early 2000s but it’s still very timely in terms of the current climate with politics. It has a lot of good things to say. The music is very catchy, and it’s one of those shows where you hear the name and you’re like, “I don’t know — it sounds weird,” but then you actually go to sit down and you see it and within 15, 20 minutes you’re like, “Wow, I’m glad I didn’t miss the opportunity to see this!”

What is up next for both of you?

S: I am very shortly starting Mary Poppins at the John W. Engeman. I’m in the ensemble but I’m covering a few different tracks of a lot of the character roles. I’m going to be doing that the whole Christmas season. And Jeremy will get one soon, but he’s—

J: Currently in between things. I have to, what with work and whatnot, I have to be a little more selective in what—

S: So he can make the dollar bills. It’s honestly either just you’re doing three shows at a time, one after the other, or you don’t do something for six months.

J: As long as we can make a living, or any wage, really, performing, that is the ideal. I would love to do theater but that doesn’t necessarily mean that’s the only thing I would like to do.

S: But we’ll always do it, regardless of if we have babies or have full-time jobs, we’ll definitely always come back and do theater because that’s what we love.

Is there anything else that you want to say to our readers?

J: This is a wonderful show, here, and Smithtown Performing Arts Center. There is a theater in Smithtown, it’s on Main Street.

S: Please come see Urinetown and everything else because everything they do here is really wonderful.

J: They put a lot of time and effort and thought into shows here. This is specifically a show that desperately needs an audience to enjoy it for it to really reach it’s maximum potential, so come on down everyone.

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