New myeloma drug targets the NF-kappaB pathway

I just read about a new experimental drug called DPT3 that can kill myeloma cells by targeting a protein complex called GADD45beta/MKK7, which is very active in myeloma and is tied to the NF-kappaB signalling pathway, a pathway that I’ve written many posts about in the past (just do a search of my blog).

Now, since I began my myeloma journey (by the way, I’ve had smoldering myeloma now for more than NINE years, yaaaaay!), I’ve learned not to get overly excited about promising new myeloma treatments, which often seem to vanish into thin air. In this case, however, I must admit that I am intrigued and want to follow any future developments…and here’s why:

This drug, developed by a European research team, apparently has NO TOXIC SIDE EFFECTS. The researchers found that it harms only myeloma cells, NOT normal, healthy cells, which, as we know, is a huge problem in conventional myeloma treatment. And that is what I find exciting — the fact that this new drug seems to leave healthy cells alone while killing off myeloma cells.

Now, I should note that the drug has thus far been tested only on mice and myeloma cells in a lab setting, so we don’t know how it will behave when tested on humans. Human clinical trials are set to begin only at the end of 2015. Bummer. More waiting.

In the meantime, you can read more about it here (this is the “plain language” summary): http://goo.gl/dK8P3s

The study is available for free online at this link: http://goo.gl/VaqYaZ (click on “PDF 2.9 MB” to view the full study). Here’s an interesting excerpt: myeloma patients who, at diagnosis, have high levels of the above-mentioned GADD45beta/MKK7 have “significantly shorter overall survival” compared to myeloma patients who have lower levels of this stuff…even if they have all had the exact same conventional treatments. This means that there is a “strong correlation between GADD45B expression and disease progression,” and the researchers have now linked GADD45B to “more aggressive disease.” Ugh.

I have to confess that I haven’t had the time to read the full study yet…I just had a quick glance here and there…All I can say right now is that it’s way too early to crack open the bubbly, but…yes, it’s all very interesting…

So…let’s keep our fingers crossed! :)

Cat number 7

Seven cats…yes…well, I suppose it’s official now: Stefano and I are a couple of crazy cat people…And, I would like to add, proud to be so… ;-)

How we went from six to seven is a long, complicated story, but I’ll try to keep it short…

In April, while Stefano and I were in the U.S., one of our neighbors here in Florence sold his house and moved to another (Italian) city, a mere three hours’ drive from here. He took his dog with him and promised to come back as soon as possible for his cat — a female “inside/outside” cat that had lived with him and his family since she was born, about ten years ago. Yes, the cat is 10 years old…keep that in mind as you read the rest of the story…

The day he moved, my next door neighbor kindly offered to feed his cat, at her own expense…And as soon as I returned from the U.S., I began feeding the kitty, too. In the beginning, we were sure that our former neighbor would return for his cat. He just couldn’t abandon her after all these years…right?

But the summer months went by, and there was no sign of him. No calls…nothing.

By the time Stefano and I returned from the U.S., in late August, it was obvious that the kitty had been abandoned. I don’t think I need to comment on that…

Now, it soon became clear that the kitty had taken a particular fancy to Stefano and me (well, how could it be otherwise? ;-) ). She spent most of her time in our garden or on our terrace. Every time I’d go outside, she’d come running with her tail straight up in the air, and she’d begin rubbing against my legs, purring madly. Such a sweet little lady.

Winter is coming, although the past week you wouldn’t have know it — it’s been quite warm and damp here in Florence…more like early summer than late fall. But the cool nights are around the corner, I’m sure. And Stefano and I couldn’t bear the thought of this kitty out in the cold, without proper shelter, etc. And so, with our neighbors’ approval, Stefano and I decided to adopt our little lady.

_MG_2386Last week we took her to our vet for a checkup, which went very well, except she has ear mites, which means that she has to be kept isolated from the other cats for about a week (ear mites, which are very common in outside cats, are very contagious to other cats). She also has a rather bad case of gingivitis, which I am attempting to treat with curcumin (mixed in with her wet food). We’ll see how that goes…

Anyway, until the ear mite problem clears up, she can’t be introduced to our other cats, which means that I am sleeping with her (and spending as much time as I can with her) in our second bedroom.

The first night we spent together I barely got a wink of sleep — she kept kneading me, from head to toe, purring in my ears, walking all over me…the happiest kitty in the world.

She’s definitely ours now. And we have finally found a good name for her…we’ve named her after my sister: Pammy.

Pammy now has a loving family…

A forever family, this time!

The art of dying

“Letting go: what should medicine do when it can’t save your life?” is the title of a New Yorker article — written by a Boston surgeon in 2010 — that I read a few days ago (thanks to a member of the myeloma support group on Facebook who posted the link).

It’s so long that you might get a bit fidgety, but try to hang in there until the very last word. I’m sure you’ll find it as interesting as I did…so interesting, in fact, that I decided not to make any comments about it, which is very unusual for me. ;-) Seriously, though, right now I’d much rather read what YOU think about it, so please drop me a note or, even better, please leave a comment here on the blog, if you can find the time etc…That would be great. You see, I’d like to write a post about this delicate but very important issue, but I need more time to sort through things, and your input would be invaluable. Thank you!!!

Here’s the link to the New Yorker article: http://goo.gl/DbbjkN 

The gallbladder/gallstone/curcumin question

Many of you have been asking me the same question for quite some time now: “if I’ve had my gallbladder removed, is it safe for me to take curcumin?” Today I can finally give you an answer. But first let’s take a look at a couple of things…

As you know from my “Side Effects and Warnings” Page (which you will find by scrolling down and looking on the right), curcumin increases the production of bile and also makes the gallbladder contract, which is great if you have no gallbladder problems. But if, for example, you already have gallstones, it’s a bad thing for your gallbladder to contract…In a nutshell, it can make things worse…

Bottom line: if you have gallstones, you should NOT take curcumin

That said, if you do NOT have gallstones, curcumin will prevent their formation, which is excellent news for those of us who don’t have ‘em. And, if you suffer from indigestion and/or gas and/or bloating, curcumin can be of much help (again, if you don’t have any gallbladder issues). This morning I came across a 2013 University of Genoa (Italy!!!) study that I haven’t had the time to read in any depth, but it states clearly that curcumin prevents the formation of gallstones: http://goo.gl/Adm4Cs (See paragraph titled: “Choleretic-cholagogue effect.” Interesting information. Well, I really must go back and read this full study when I have more time…)

But what the hey is bile? What are gallstones? I have to confess that these were mostly just WORDS that I have come across in my research. Until this morning, when I looked it all up, I didn’t really KNOW what it all meant and how it all worked. Well, I found the whole process rather fascinating, so I decided to have a quick, albeit rather simplistic (but after all, how MUCH do we really need to know about gallstones???) look at this topic:

Bile is a gross, bitter, dark yellow to dark green/brown fluid produced continuously by the liver. It helps us digest our food, especially digest FATS, and it is stored in the gallbladder, a pear-shaped, hollow organ located under the liver. The main purpose of the gallbladder is to store and concentrate bile (concentrate = make it less watery, thus more effective for the purpose described in the next paragraph).

Whenever we eat something, our gallbladder contracts, causing some of its concentrated bile to pass through the bile duct into the small intestine (= the duodenum) where it helps us digest fat. Note: if our bodies didn’t produce bile, we wouldn’t be able to digest the fat in our food (that condition actually exists, but it goes beyond the purpose of this post). Scary, huh? We really should treasure our bile…

Bile also removes certain waste products/toxins from our bodies, such as drugs (antibiotics, e.g.), cholesterol…and also bilirubin = a useless, toxic product that forms when red blood cells are destroyed. Well, okay, this is also a digression…an interesting one, though…and besides, it gives us an idea of how important bile is…

Oh wait, just one more thing: have you ever wondered why your poop is brown? It’s because of bile. How about that for a bit of entertaining trivia? ;-)

Okay, let’s, er, move on quickly to gallstones, which are hard “stones,” as the word suggests, which vary in size and which form in the gallbladder. Most gallstones form when the bile becomes too full of either cholesterol or bilirubin, which begin clumping together…you get the picture (I actually almost posted some photos of gallstones, but they’re a bit too gross even for me…).

Anyway, without getting bogged down with too many details, most of these stones don’t cause any symptoms and are small enough to pass into the small intestine. But some become too big and can cause real problems — inflammation, blockages, bacterial infections. The obstruction of the bile ducts, for example, can lead to jaundice (= bile accumulates in the liver) or pancreatitis. Serious stuff.

Speaking of blockages, that made me think of the following: as we know, curcumin increases the flow of bile. But if the bile ducts are blocked, all this bile has nowhere to go except back into the gallbladder, where it will accumulate…Not good. Now I really understand why, if you have a bile duct obstruction, you shouldn’t take curcumin.

The “good” news is that humans can live without their gallbladders — in these cases, bile flows from the liver directly into the small intestine. It’s a bit more watery than the gallbladder’s concentrated bile, but it still helps us digest what we eat…

And now, finally!, we get to the question of the day: can we take curcumin IF we’ve had our gallbladder removed? The answer is YES. I recently contacted Prof. Aggarwal as well as a friend of mine who happens to be a well-known Tuscan urologist and whom I will call Dr. B. from now on. They both concurred that people who have had their gallbladders removed can indeed take curcumin. In fact, Dr. B. told me that he had his gallbladder removed years ago, and that he has been taking curcumin without any problems.

Of course, as with anything else, especially if I had any further concerns, I’d check things out with my doctor first…

Medication in motion…

There’s no getting around it: I have lazy DNA. My mother and my aunt both agree that their side of the family has always been afflicted by an incredibly lazy gene pool — the expression “physical activity” sends shivers down our backs, we aren’t sports fanatics, we don’t run marathons or play tennis or soccer or even fly kites from a sitting position on the beach. Nope. We like to lounge around, eat bonbons, and read books or watch movies. Or play cards…

IMG_1811That said, in fact I’m quite active in my everyday life…or rather, I CAN BE very active, and I often force myself to swim upstream against,  uhm, the powerful and, in many ways, attractive lazy gene current. Stefano and I go off bird watching, e.g., and that often involves a great deal of physical activity, of course, up and down hills etc. Even taking care of six cats goes against my natural tendency toward laziness…something I occasionally think about while I lug around heavy bags of cat litter…

This was all a premise, of course…an unnecessary one, true…but it just came out of my typing fingers when I began writing this post, and I rather enjoyed writing the first two paragraphs, so…so there…I’m not deleting them. But let’s move on to what I originally set out to write about — my BIG news for the day…”medication in motion” (= taken from the Harvard Medical School link that you will find below):

Yesterday evening Stefano and I, together with our next door neighbor (a very nice woman with lower back pain almost certainly caused by her sedentary job), had our first tai chi (t’ai chi ch’uan) lesson. And we absolutely loved it loved it loved it. We loved the movements AND we loved our instructor…

On Wednesday we’re going to our first official qi gong lesson, too…

Now, I’ve done qi gong on my own, using DVDs, but I’ve never been to a lesson taught by an instructor standing, physically standing I mean, right in front of me. Years ago, when I first became interested in qi gong, I tried to find a class here in Florence, but in the end I gave up and just did it on my own, with DVDs.

But I’ve since realized that you really need that visual, physical “contact,” especially when you are a beginner. Yesterday, for example, the instructor walked among us, gently correcting our posture and movements. You don’t get that from a DVD. And it’s vital, at this stage.

Okay, for those who are interested, here is the link to a Harvard Medical School write-up on tai chi (it mentions qi gong, too): http://goo.gl/2LWXSz At the end of the article you will find a partial list of medical conditions for which tai chi seems to be very beneficial — don’t miss what it says about bone density!!! Yes, it is certainly a partial list…for example, looking for more information online just now, I came across a recent article dealing with the beneficial effects of tai chi on fibromyalgia (see http://goo.gl/NZAgLn), so who knows how long that Harvard Med School list might end up being…

At any rate, this is the beginning of a new, interesting health journey for Stefano and yours truly…a journey that should also help me say “hasta la vista, baby!!!” to my genetic, er, lazy bug… ;-)

A health reason to be silly…

A Swiss friend of mine, whom I met via the blog (it’s becoming quite a crowd! ;-) ), recently sent me the link to a very interesting CNN article, titled “This is your brain on knitting”: http://goo.gl/7rI1lT

Knitting, crafting, reading a book, playing games, taking photographs (and other fun, creative hobbies) are all activities that apparently have a very positive effect on our brain, a profound effect. Knitting in particular cured a woman’s post-traumatic disorder and extreme anxiety (you can read more about her case in the article).

Here’s an excerpt: “Crafting can help those who suffer from anxiety, depression or chronic pain, experts say. It may also ease stress, increase happiness and protect the brain from damage caused by aging.”

golden girlsI’ll have to tell my girlfriends about this…I get together with three of my most hilarious girlfriends once a week to play cards, laugh, and eat little goodies that we usually prepare ourselves (such as brownies).

Our meetings are lots of fun, of course, but now we have another reason to be silly:

a health reason… :-)

P.S. For the record: the photo of the ladies on the right is NOT of me and my girlfriends (we’re quite a bit younger, for starters) but of the four actresses who played a group of elderly women living together in the American sitcom “The Golden Girls.” I enjoyed that show, by the way…

Leukemic cells transformed back into normal cells: could that be possible…some day?

I was fascinated and intrigued by almost everything I read in this New Yorker article written by Jerome Groopman who is, among other things, a hematologist: https://goo.gl/ (thanks for posting the link on FB, Don!) I’m going to re-read the article tomorrow…it contains so much food for thought, too much for just one session, in my opinion…but in the meantime I thought I’d post the link so that you can have a look, too, if you want…

The article focuses on the idea that some day we might be able to turn leukemic cells into normal, healthy red and white blood cells and platelets, using a drug that doesn’t kill everything in its path (= healthy cells as well as cancer cells) but that targets only the leukemic cells…without killing them! Mind boggling, isn’t it?

It’s impossible to list all the other interesting stuff that you can read about in this article — for example, the case studies described by Dr. Groopman…the section he devotes to pancreatic cancer and pancreatic cancer patients and the Notch gene (I’ve written some posts on the dastardly Notch mutation, which is important in myeloma, too…just do a Search of my blog for “Notch”). And, by the way, curcumin inhibits Notch…yep, it does. Again, search my blog…

Anyway, if you find yourself without anything good to read this weekend, click on the above link. You won’t be sorry, I’m sure!

Okay, I need to get back to work now. Ciao! :-)

“Blimey, Margaret. Talk about lightning striking twice!”

That’s exactly what a dear friend of mine (whom I met via my blog many years ago, by the way) wrote to me after learning the news about Stefano’s uncle.

Now, as you read this post, please keep in mind that Stefano’s uncle and I are NOT related by blood. He is Italian; I am U.S. There is no Italian blood in me at all, as far as I know. So this is definitely NOT a case of familial myeloma or of familial predisposition to myeloma.

It’s just a…weird…uncanny…coincidence. I mean, of ALL the cancers…??? Puzzling.

Okay, here’s the story…or rather, the basic summary of a very long story:

Last month, while Stefano and I were still visiting my parents in the U.S., we received an email from one of Stefano’s cousins, informing us that his father (that is, Stefano’s uncle) had just been diagnosed with multiple myeloma, the light chain type. You can imagine our reaction…

After taking a look at the uncle’s results, I realized that he must be in stage III (this was later confirmed by the MM specialist, see below). His level of Bence Jones protein was very high – more than 10 grams. Other important indications: quite a bit of anemia and high-ish creatinine. And yet, incredibly, the uncle has NO SYMPTOMS. Nothing. He’s very active, never gets tired, etc.

Myeloma is a sneaky beast, isn’t it?

The uncle’s hematologist had wanted to start him immediately (in August, that is) on the VTD protocol (the acronym stands for Velcade, Thalidomide, Dexamethasone), but, after what we had both learned from my own experience back in 2005, Stefano and I thought that the uncle should get a second opinion. I also didn’t care for the fact that some of the crucial tests for myeloma were missing — skeletal survey, C-reactive protein, and Beta-2 microglobulin, to mention the main ones. So we suggested that he make an appointment with the internationally well-known and respected Italian myeloma specialist that I myself had seen in 2005, when I knew almost nothing about multiple myeloma. The uncle and his family agreed.

And so last Wednesday Stefano and I accompanied his uncle, aunt and cousin to a big city in Northern Italy, where we spent about an hour with the myeloma specialist. Stefano’s aunt told the specialist what had happened, how the uncle had begun having mild anemia in 2009 for which he was given folic acid (folic acid? Interesting…must check that out…).

She said that in June 2014 the thing sort of “exploded” by pure chance, when the uncle went to the dentist for an unrelated problem, and the dentist recommended that he have some blood work done. That is when the Bence Jones protein problem was discovered, and the uncle was sent to a hematologist. I don’t know why it then took more than a month for the hematologist to come up with the myeloma diagnosis, but…whatever.

Well, the Northern Italian specialist confirmed my suspicion — that the uncle was in stage III (in spite of the missing pieces of the puzzle that I mentioned above). And he said that VTD was the correct treatment…to be followed by an autologous stem cell transplant.

Stefano’s aunt said that her husband was already taking curcumin and asked if he could continue doing so during the VTD treatment. The specialist didn’t roll his eyes or ask what the heck curcumin was (which indicates that this isn’t the first time he’s heard about curcumin), but merely indicated that it wouldn’t hurt, although it probably wouldn’t help, either. Bah humbug. But I remained silent…no point in getting involved in a useless debate…

After the aunt had run out of questions, I piped up and asked the specialist something (I forget what, exactly)…something that evidently surprised him enough to ask me: “you’re an M.D., aren’t you?”

An M.D.? Moi?

No, I’m not kidding (and I have witnesses, too). ;-)

I laughed and said no, I wasn’t, adding that he probably didn’t remember me, but that I had seen him as a patient in 2005, that I was still smoldering, hadn’t had any conventional treatments, etc. I told him that I have been taking curcumin since January 2006 and was doing very well, as he could see. And that I had a blog detailing my own personal experience with curcumin, mainly…

He and I then had an exchange about possible alternative therapies and other drugs and whatnot…I asked a bunch of questions, and the aunt asked some, too. In the end, though, it all came back to the old VTD treatment. This sort of induction therapy leads to an autologous stem cell transplant. The uncle has almost reached the age where he won’t be eligible for a transplant…so we’ll have to see what happens and how he is doing 4 months from now.

I’m very hopeful, I must say. The uncle is in good physical and mental shape. Most importantly, he will be taking curcumin.

Besides, as the MM specialist told the uncle at one point: “you’re more likely to die of a heart attack than of myeloma.”

That’s comforting.

A planned destruction: my beloved Parco della Piana

IMG_0654The Parco della Piana is one of the very few bird reserves in the province of Florence (in my opinion, it is also the best, by far!). Many different bird species go through their annual courtship rituals, build their nests and raise their young on the shores or little islands of this reserve’s lakes…I’m talking about the elegant black-winged stilts, herons and ducks of all sorts, kingfishers, bitterns, little grebes, great-crested grebes, coots and others. And finally, many other bird species live at the Parco della Piana year round or stop there to rest and fill their beaks on their way north or south, depending on the season. A partial list includes woodpeckers, warblers, swallows, least flycatchers, snipes, egrets, pheasants, hawks, pied flycatchers, nightingales, great tits, wrynecks, spoonbills, the occasional flamingo or two…and many others, of course…IMG_1413

In short, the Parco della Piana bird reserve, located in the municipality of Sesto Fiorentino just outside of Florence, provides a lovely, peaceful and biodiverse habitat for many species…oh, and not just for birds but also for hares, frogs, butterflies, turtles, weird-looking dragonflies, etc. It is a haven that gives much joy to those of us who go there as often as possible…There is even a family picnic area with a barbecue…

Speaking of families, it’s free to the public.

But time is running out for the Parco della Piana. Why? Because of an unnecessary runway. Yes, a stupid runway.

IMG_0099The airport in Florence was built in the 1930s, and since then various attempts have been made to expand it. Some of the runways have been extended to a certain degree, but the problem is that the airport is located in the middle of the crowded province of Florence, which includes various municipalities such as Prato and Campi Bisenzio. Between the human communities AND the hills and mountains that surround Florence, there is really no space where longer runways can be built…

With one possible exception: in the direction of, and on top of!, the Parco della Piana bird reserve, which is close to the A11 (Florence-Pisa) highway…

IMG_0421And so, in July 2014, the Regional Council of Tuscany voted in favor of building a new, 2,000-meter-long runway that would run parallel to  the A11 highway…in spite of the outcry and protests from entire communities whose lives would be disrupted by the noise and pollution that a new runway entails…

But this project goes beyond noise, disruption and pollution. The building of a new runway at the airport of Florence makes NO SENSE AT ALL. The obvious and sensible alternative would instead be to improve the train service between the cities of Florence and Pisa. Pisa, you see, already HAS an International Airport – a mere hour’s drive/ride from Florence. And even now there are trains that shuttle passengers from the train station in Florence directly to the international airport in Pisa. Stefano and I have made that short trip many times, luggage and all. Easy peasy. IMG_0064

Furthermore, the price of improving the above-mentioned Florence-Pisa transportation system would be nickels and dimes compared to the outrageous costs of building a new runway here in Florence.

But I don’t want to go on and on about the greed, stupidity and nearsightedness of those who voted for the new runway…or even attempt to prove my point that Tuscany doesn’t need more than ONE international airport (that much is obvious).

IMG_5061My purpose in writing this post is to make an appeal to those of you who enjoy bird watching or care about nature in general. Please help me take action. And while I try to come up with more ideas on what to do to save our precious bird reserve, here is a list of things that you can do RIGHT NOW to show your support:

  1. IMG_6603If you are a member of Facebook, please join the Parco della Piana bird reserve’s Page, titled “Gli amici del Parco della Piana di Sesto F.no (ANPIL Podere la Querciola”). Here is the direct link to the reserve’s Page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/102148033156668/ Note: many of the reserve’s bird watchers/photographers post their beautiful photos (all taken at the reserve, of course) on this Page, so it doesn’t matter if you don’t know any Italian. You can still enjoy and “like” the photos, and you can also leave comments in your native language.
  2. As a member of Facebook, you can also join the group “Piana Sana,” which translates as “Healthy Piana,” founded by concerned Tuscan citizens who oppose the new runway project: https://www.facebook.com/pianasana/timeline The interactive maps posted on this Page show clearly that the new runway goes right over our bird reserve. 12.07.28-Parco della Piana-0005
  3. The next time you plan to visit Florence, please think about spending a few hours at the Parco della Piana. It’s a peaceful place that can give you a bit of a rest from your hectic sightseeing in Florence, a place where you can sit and rest in one of the bird hides built around the reserve’s lakes and take photos of bird species that might be rare in your country. And here’s an ADDED BONUS: if you want directions to the park, get in touch with me…in fact, I will try to find the time to take you there, myself!  :)
  4. I just learned of a petition asking the Italian Minister of the Environment, Land, and Sea to designate an independent, experienced corporation to look into the environmental impact that the new runway would have on the entire area. You can sign the petition, too, at this link: http://goo.gl/yUp54E
  5. IMG_5821Last but not least, please help me spread the word about the planned destruction of this precious habitat. Share my post on Facebook (etc.), ask your friends to join the above-mentioned groups, etc.

In conclusion, Florence doesn’t need a new 2,000-meter-long runway that will impact and disrupt so many lives – not just the lives of all the birds and animals that depend on this green area for their survival but also the lives of all the people who live in and around the area where the new runway would be built.

Perhaps we won’t be able to stop this outrage from happening, but we just can’t sit back and do nothing. It’s time to SAY NO TO THE NEW RUNWAY PROJECT. And in fact the number of people who oppose the project has been increasing…petitions have been circulating, etc.

So I believe it can be done. With your help, too!

Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
[Margaret Mead]

Thank you for your support!!!

P.S. I took all these photos at the Parco della Piana reserve in different time periods/years…

Spam talk

no spamI have a very efficient anti-spam program. It blocks all the stupid and at times irritating stuff that clogs (or tries to clog!) every single website/blog in the world, for reasons unknown to me.

But yesterday, as I was (by chance) skimming through the recent comments that had ended up in my blog’s endless spam folder, I realized that my Spambuster has perhaps been a tad too efficient. The spam folder included in fact a number of legitimate blog reader comments. Horror!

spamI don’t know why these particular comments were blocked by the Spambuster. In any event, I approved as many as I could, then got a bit overwhelmed and decided to post a quick note today on the blog…

From now on I will be checking the spam folder as often as possible, but I would like to ask for your collaboration in this, er, new task…as follows: if your comment doesn’t get published within a few days, please get in touch with me, and I will try to retrieve it from the Spambuster’s clutches.

Thank you! And…have a fabulous, fun-filled weekend, everyone! Ciao! :-)