Knowledge is power–a new blog post by Dr. Durie

IMG_4570This morning I had my blood tests. Results in early May. I’ll post them here, of course. Good or bad, whatever.

I used to be very apprehensive about tests and results…but years of all this have helped lessen the pre-testing anxiety (and the “what if!!!” syndrome that we all have at one point or another). Reading a funny book, such as “Anguished English,” while waiting for my name to be called at the lab is also a big help… :-)

Today I came across Dr. Durie’s recent blog post on the subject of eating and drinking. Among other things, I’m happy that he speaks out against Monsanto and its awful pesticide Roundup (just to mention one Monsanto abomination!). And so on.

A good, interesting read: http://goo.gl/mZfFtl And it reminds me–I still have to read “Grain brain”!

Knowledge IS power. I couldn’t agree more with Dr. Durie (whom I met in person at a patient-doctor meeting that was held several years ago right here in Florence, incidentally…).

Thoughts on my upcoming tests…and wisteria blooms…

IMG_4631I’m having my blood drawn day after tomorrow, which means that tomorrow I’ll be doing the 24-hour urine collection (joy!) to determine if I have any Bence-Jones protein in my urine…it’s always been negative, so…fingers crossed!

In the past few weeks–since the beginning of April, in fact–I haven’t given much thought to my smoldering myeloma. I’ve been too busy…mostly too busy having fun, which is always a good thing!

BIMG_4651ut then, last week, as I mentioned in a recent post, I wasn’t able to access my blog because of some mysterious computer glitch. Stefano worked on the problem and fixed it, but that took a few days. And during the brief time that I was locked out of my blog, I got to thinking about how much it–my blog–has meant/means to me.

A lot. A whole big lot. For many reasons…

And now for a series of “ifs.” But these aren’t the regretful sort of “ifs,” as you will see…

  • If I hadn’t been diagnosed with MGUS (1999), then with smoldering myeloma (2005)…
  • if I hadn’t come across the MD Anderson curcumin-myeloma trial…
  • if I hadn’t decided to take curcumin (and believe me, back in 2006 things were very different: most people/MM patients/doctors believed I was rather nutty or perhaps VERY nutty…but now look…many of our doctors are actually recommending that their patients take curcumin! Ah yes, we’ve certainly come a long way…)…
  • if I hadn’t followed a friend’s advice and created this blog…

…I’d be a different person today. I mean, sure, I’d be the same old Margaret that I was in my “previous” life, my life before myeloma, that is…But…yes…different…

IMG_4650For one thing, I wouldn’t have found out that I can actually WRITE (thanks, Dad!).

For another, I wouldn’t have met so many different, generous, kind, brave people (you, my blog readers). By now I have met a whole bunch of blog readers…and I have many new friends who live in different countries, from Italy to the U.S.A…

I have experienced only generosity and kindness from my blog readers, and so I take this opportunity to thank you all…from the heart! Grazie! :-)

I will never forget, e.g., the day I met a British blog reader who said that Stefano and I could stay in her London apartment anytime we wanted (we haven’t taken her up on her offer yet, but we might!). Or the day we got three different offers from three different blog readers to spend a week with them in New York City. How splendid is all that?

IMG_4624But the first to invite us into his home and into his life was our much beloved British photographer friend (the guy who just came to Tuscany to visit us)…We both love him to bits and always enjoy getting together with him and his family…sweet, wonderful, interesting people.

Okay, let’s get back to the point of this post: in the past couple of days I’ve been thinking that no matter how my test results turn out, I’ve had a really great run with curcumin and a few other naturally-derived, nontoxic extracts. No, I’m not worried about them…these are just considerations that sometimes pop into my brain before I go have blood tests…

More considerations…In early 2006, my hematologist here in Florence told my husband that I could live for five years if I had chemo and an autologous stem cell transplant. Five years??? That’s IT??? Sheesh.

Furthermore, based on my test results, in the autumn of 2005 a world-famous U.S. hematologist told me that I’d be progressing to active MM in five year’s time ( = 2010, that is). IMG_4625

Didn’t happen.

Well, I’ve clearly beaten the statistics. Without chemo or transplants, to boot. And anyway, you know my thoughts on statistics…pfui!

In all these year–since my SMM diagnosis in 2005, that is–apart from a few episodes with the flu AND in spite of my low immune defenses, I’ve been incredibly healthy and have led a happy, active life. In fact, I just got back from driving around with a friend, photographing all the wisteria in bloom that we could find in this area of Florence. All the photos were taken on the way to the hilltop town of Fiesole, incidentally.

IMG_4655Living with smoldering myeloma was not my choice, of course. But I can’t ignore the fact that my SMM diagnosis has made me look at life very differently. It has made me slow down and appreciate and enjoy even the smallest things, things that I might not have done in the pre-MM period…like going off to photograph wisteria in full bloom with a friend. My priorities have definitely changed…

And, as a result, life is good…

Oh dear, look at the time! I really must get off the computer and find the 24-hour urine container for tomorrow. Then I need to give Piccolo and Puzzola (my two eldest cats) their pills. Off I go! Take care, everyone, and enjoy the lovely spring blooms! Ciaooooo! :-)

Val d’Orcia, Tuscany

_1020045As I mentioned, a couple of weekends ago Stefano and I accompanied a close friend, a photographer from the UK, on a weekend tour of Val d’Orcia, a lovely part of southern Tuscany AND World Heritage Site. _1020312

We had a wonderful, relaxing time.

We spent Saturday night in a 4-star hotel in San Quirico d’Orcia, a lovely little town we’d never visited before, where we were “upgraded” to two deluxe double rooms for the same (bargain!) price we’d found online. What a super deal!

_1020537_1030295The hotel staff were fantastic, very helpful, and the meals we had were absolutely first-rate…and cheap, too, compared to most restaurants you find in Florence.

_1030211So, if you decide to visit lovely Val d’Orcia, get in touch with me. Now I have a few more pointers inside my “can’t-miss-in-southern-Tuscany” bag! ;-)_1020111

The only thing is, I’d wait until May or June…or perhaps even late fall or winter. This is an in-between season (which is why we got the hotel deal, in fact)…but, as you can see, Val d’Orcia is still drop dead gorgeous…

_1020130And yes, no doubt about it, the theme in Val d’Orcia is…CYPRESSES! :-)

Again, hover over the photos to get a description of them…and/or click on them to get an enlargement.

Belgium, April 2015

IMG_3911Yesterday I finally had the time to go through my photos of Brussels and Bruges/Brugge. Here is a random collection of some of my favorites.

And while I’m at it, I have a few recommendations for anyone visiting Brussels:

1. Thematic maps. Go to the Visit Brussels tourist office, which is not far from the central train station, and ask for their “theme” maps (cost: 1 euro each). IMG_3736We bought the Art Nouveau/Art Deco map and the Comic Art map (oh, and the food lovers’ map). These small, illustrated maps take you on a walking tour of Brussels, so you don’t waste any time, e.g., trying to find a specific Art Deco building or comic strip mural on your own. Very helpful.

We really enjoyed exploring Brussels using these thematic maps. IMG_3884 Without them, we might not have noticed the Tintin comic mural on our way to see the Manneken Pis (the small bronze statue of a little boy peeing into a fountain’s basin). I took a few photos of the Manneken Pis, but it’s so famous that I decided to post a photo of the Tintin mural instead (photo no. 3, to the left).

So yes, highly recommended. The maps, I mean.

2. Chocolate. In Brussels, everywhere you turn, everywhere you look, there is a chocolate shop. And I mean: everywhere! I have never seen–or smelled!–anything like it. A chocoholic’s idea of heaven. ;-)

There are so many different chocolatiers that you wonder what to do, which chocolate to try.IMG_3748 My advice is NOT to waste your palate on any of the chocolate created for the tourist market. Go directly to one of Pierre Marcolini’s shops (and no, unfortunately I am not getting paid in chocolate to write this recommendation, or in any other way for that matter!). Yes, true, Marcolini’s high quality chocolate is probably more expensive, but it’s so exquisite that you can eat less of it and feel completely satisfied…in chocolate heaven, in fact. Mmmmh. And even if you don’t like chocolate, walking into a Marcolini shop is like walking into a fancy jewelry shop…the chocolates are displayed like jewels…Many thanks to my gourmet friend Simonetta for recommending this chocolatier!IMG_3934

The day after we arrived in Brussels, it just so happened that Pierre Marcolini opened a shop devoted mainly to éclairs (photo no. 4, above). We went to the inauguration, of course!, and Stefano and I split an éclair–one of the most divine sweets I’ve ever tasted, and hey, let’s not forget that I live in Florence, which is full of amazing pastry shops! :-)IMG_3966

3. Accommodation (etc.). Try to stay in a hotel or B&B in the center of Brussels. We did that and were able to walk everywhere…except for one rainy/overcast day when we decided to take the tourist sightseeing bus, which took us out to the Atomium where, in spite of the rain, the queues were impossible, so we just stayed outside and took photos. See photo no. 5. Another place I highly recommend is the Horta Museum. Note: the hop-on-hop-off tourist bus takes you close to it. IMG_4047

4. Food. We didn’t eat tremendously well, I have to admit, in part because some of the recommended, family-operated restaurants were closed during part of our stay, but we did have delicious, organic breakfasts (in a café near our hotel…we went there every morning!) and one truly fantastic lunch…so if you are headed to Brussels, let me know, and I’ll tell you where they are. IMG_4484

Bruges (starting from photo no. 9, i.e., the waffle photo).

Well, I don’t know if I would call Bruges a “Venice of the North” (!), but it is certainly a very very very pretty and lively town with many canals and photo opportunities…well worth a visit. Make sure you go on a canal boat ride!

IMG_4339I could describe Bruges in four words: canals, tourists, cobblestones and…swans. Yes, swans. Lots of them. The swans of Bruges are actually quite tame (I watched children petting one of them, something I would never do…). And I came across a Medieval legend connected to the presence of swans in Bruges.

IMG_4331As follows (my summary of the legend I found online):

Pieter Lanchals, whose surname means ‘long neck,’ was one of the town administrators at the court of Maximilian of Austria (15th century). He tried to seize power in Bruges but was imprisoned and forced to watch the torture of his supporters. IMG_4271Lanchals was then executed in the Bruges market square. According to the legend, Maximilian of Austria punished Bruges by obliging the population to keep ‘long necks,’ that is, swans, on their lakes and canals until eternity.

IMG_4411Well, whatever the reason for the presence of all these swans, I must say that they added beauty and elegance to our visit and photos. So do make sure to walk to the square where most of them gather…It’s quite a sight!

P.S. Hover over my photos if you would like to have a brief description of the places we visited. You can also make some of the photos bigger by clicking on them.

Computer trouble

I’m posting just a quick note (if my computer lets me, that is!) to say that two days after we got back from Brussels/Bruges (btw, we had a lovely trip and some of the best chocolate I’ve tasted in my entire life!, but I’ll save that for another post… ;-) ), our British photographer friend PK, whom Stefano and I had met years ago via my blog, came to visit us in Florence. And so we have spent the past seven days with him, fantastic fun!, mainly photographing the birds at our bird reserve, the Parco della Piana, near Florence. We also accompanied PK on a weekend trip to southern Tuscany, in the area of the Val d’Orcia, where we photographed some of the most famous cypress landscapes in the world. Breathtaking. Gorgeous. Mmmmh.

Point is: I haven’t been spending much time online lately, as you can imagine!!! :-)

IMG_4230But there is another thing. I have also been experiencing quite a bit of computer trouble in the past few days. Yesterday I couldn’t even log into my blog, which was very frustrating. Stefano seems to have fixed the problem today but…you never know with computers! Anyway, if my computer behaves, I’ll be sorting through my photos in the next few days and posting a few here. This one is a photo I took in Bruges, near Brussels, on Easter Sunday. We walked almost 18 kilometers that day…yes, eighteen kilometers…not bad, eh?

Belgium, Val d’Orcia, Parco della Piana: three very different places, but all very interesting! And lots of fun, too!

Take care, everyone! Ciao! :-)

Brussels…but without the sprouts!

Stefano and I are going to be visiting Brussels during the Easter holiday, so today I decided to write a pre-Brussels post in order to ask my Belgian readers (or readers who have been there) for some tips on where to go, what to see, the best places to get a decent meal (Belgian food), etc. We’ll be there for four days, btw. Can’t wait!!!

I have already begun a list, which includes the Magritte Museum (we are both Magritte fans), the Manneken Pis (the bronze statue of a little boy peeing into a fountain’s basin…it’s famous), and, of course, the Grand Place. We have also planned to spend a day in Bruges, sometimes referred to as “the Venice of the North.”

pierre marcoliniAs for eateries, well, it’s no secret that I’m a chocolate lover, so there couldn’t be a better place for me than the land of Belgian chocolates. ;-) We will definitely make a stop at one of Pierre Marcolini’s “haute chocolaterie” shops (see photo of his selection box), highly recommended by a chocolate-loving friend of ours. I hope we can afford his prices, though! I am also curious to visit “Mary,” the shop that supplies pralines to the Belgian royal family.

And, since Stefano likes a good glass of beer, I was thinking of taking him to the Cantillon Brewery, unless someone has a better suggestion…Of course, we will be eating regular food, too, so suggestions to that regard are most appreciated, too!

Thank you!!! Or rather, dank u!!! :-)

Flamingos!

IMG_6007Yesterday, as soon as we found out that a flock of flamingos had landed in our favorite bird reserve, Stefano and I got our gear together and rushed over there.

We arrived about an hour before sunset, so the light wasn’t great, as you can see. Plus the flamingos were on the other side of the lake, so please don’t look too closely at my photos. They’re terrible! But they do document the presence, for the FIRST time ever!!!, of 15 flamingos in this bird reserve. It’s a historic event! Amazingly exciting. IMG_5980

I hope these interesting birds are going to enjoy the reserve and stick around for a few days, which would give us a few more opportunities to photograph them, perhaps under better conditions…But even if they fly away today, it won’t matter to me: I’m so thrilled to have seen them here in Florence (after seeing hundreds of them in Camargue, years ago).IMG_5861

Wow. Flamingos in Florence! :-) IMG_5686

“Curcumin is a safe and effective treatment for most cancers…”

Well, duuuuh, we already knew that, but this–that is, the fact that curcumin is a safe and promising treatment for most cancers–is the conclusion reached by a group of scientists who reviewed past clinical trials. So…hey…it’s official!!!

Here’s the direct link to the article: http://goo.gl/oupQwg

Oh, by the way, the article specifically mentions multiple myeloma (and pancreatic cancer) as a type of cancer that responds well to curcumin…Excellent news (again, nothing new for us, but…for me, a bit of vindication, I must admit…). :-)

Through the mill…

This post should explain, I hope, my absence from the blogging world and why I haven’t been replying to queries…

I came down with the flu about a week and a half ago. Wowsie. That February flu was the worst. My main symptom was a fever close to/equal to 40° C (104° F) that lasted for days. So I slept a lot. I’m okay now, but boyohboy I’m still tired most of the time–no energy, no appetite. All I really want to do is lie around and watch movies. :-) But I know this lack of energy won’t be a permanent state…like others who have been through the same thing, I just have to take it easy for a while, that’s all…

Piccolo in the clinic Feb 2015

But that isn’t the only reason I haven’t been devoting my free time to research and blogging. We’ve just come out of a terrible period of worry and fear that began on January 20, when our eldest male cat, Piccolo, 11.5 years old, became suddenly and seriously ill.

It’s actually a long and complicated story, but the gist is that I saved my cat’s life by deciding to take him to the 24-hour animal clinic on February 6…I just had a very strong feeling that he was getting worse at home, under our family vet’s “supervision.” Turned out, I was right. My gut saved my cat…

The vets at the animal clinic ran some blood tests on Piccolo. The results showed that he had “acute kidney failure.” Noooo!!! Almost paralyzed with fear, I managed to ask the vet to tell me the truth. She answered that some cats live, some don’t, that it all depended on the individual cat’s reaction to treatment. Okay, Margaret, deep breath…

Piccolo was admitted immediately to the clinic where he stayed for more than 5 days. For the first 24 hours, we didn’t know if he would live or not…_MG_3468

Luckily for us, it turned out that his kidney failure wasn’t chronic but had been caused by an anti-inflammatory drug OVERDOSE (= a dose, mind you, that had been prescribed by our own family vet…well, now our former family vet…). I mean, Piccolo almost died because of a stupid limp (which, by the way, is gone now). Crazy. Absolutely crazy.

But the main thing is that Piccolo is okay now, thanks to the wonderful loving care he received at the clinic. He still hasn’t recovered 100%, but he’s back to his normal self, and his creatinine is almost back in the normal range now. We hope to get there next week, after finishing the I.V. therapy he’s been doing as an outpatient for weeks now.

Piccolo is an extraordinary cat. He is the only one who “skypes” with my parents, responding to their voices and gestures. And, like he did when he was a young cat, he still fills our bed with balls during the night. He won’t run down the stairs to retrieve them anymore, but he still brings them upstairs for us to throw (and for us to retrieve, too…!). He is very affectionate, loves giving forehead-to-forehead love bumps, and yes, he’s a chatterbox…he always has lots to tell us, especially when we’re driving to the animal clinic for his treatments (meowmeowmeow…aaaagh!). We love him to bits. And to think that, if I hadn’t had that gut feeling, we would have lost him…Scary.

_MG_3485The photos: 1. A miserable Piccolo in his cage at the clinic, with the torture collar around his neck (even with the collar, he managed to rip out his I.V. drip at least twice…bad boy!); 2. Piccolo on our bed shortly after we got home; 3. a more recent photo of Piccolo who is now not in any pain and able to curl up again…

Bottom line: every time I’ve followed my gut instinct, I’ve made the right choices. So here is my advice for today: always listen to your…gut!