Blogging and strolling…

In March 2007, when I created this blog, I thought nobody would be very interested in my story — the story of a woman with a relatively uncommon type of cancer (based on American Cancer Society statistics for 2014, U.S. citizens have a 0.7% lifetime risk of developing myeloma). And, as if my membership in a rare cancer club wasn’t enough, I was (still am) at the inactive or smoldering stage…not to mention my decision to ignore all the experts’ “just watch and wait…” recommendations, choosing instead to test a few scientifically-backed alternative treatments, mainly curcumin.

Ho-hum, zzzzz, boooooring…

Well, I was wrong. My readership kept growing…to the point where I admit I became somewhat “greedy”: I wanted have more and more readers. I wanted to be THE most popular myeloma blogger on the block. ;-) Well, okay, I’m exaggerating here, but it’s true that for some time I did get dragged into a sort of blogging obsession. I even tried to find ways to increase my blog “traffic,” that is, ways to attract increasing numbers of readers/visitors to my blog. Apparently the best system is to write a post EVERY SINGLE day. In fact, many bloggers write more than one post a day.

So for a while I wrote a post every day, too. Or I tried to.

But at one point last year I began to ask myself: 1. What’s more important…quality or quantity? 2. Should I go play cards with my girlfriends or stay home and write a post for tomorrow? 3. Won’t my readers get bloody tired of hearing about my cats or even the research I do for myeloma? Wouldn’t they prefer to know or imagine that I am out there, in the real world, doing fun/interesting things?

I finally decided that blogging every single day simply wasn’t worth it: it absorbed too much of my free time…and now I don’t really care if only ten people read my blog every day. Even though my blog is VERY important to me, and it will always be important, I have made my choice: blogging takes second place. I am going to enjoy my life as much as possible.

And, to be honest, even when I don’t publish anything for more than a week, Google Analytics tells me that hundreds of people are still reading my blog every day. True, those numbers usually go up whenever I post something new, but I’m satisfied even when they aren’t as impressive. I don’t need five million readers…_MG_2485Indeed, if I had millions of readers, I would NEVER be able to answer any messages. I’m hard pressed to answer the ones I already get (see the post I wrote on this topic a month or so ago).

Okay, let’s move on. Speaking of living out in the real world, yesterday I had a lovely (and very cheap for Florence!) lunch at the vegetarian restaurant with a couple of friends — one of my best friends, who lives in Arezzo (a lovely Tuscan city, about a 40-minute drive from Florence) and a college friend of hers whom I hadn’t seen since…well, since I was here in Florence doing my M.A….23 years ago…is that possible? Yikes. Time…_MG_2484

Anyway, the three of us had planned to meet at 12 pm, but yesterday was such a splendid sunny day that I took an early bus into town so I could stroll around on my own for a bit…and take a few photos…

I couldn’t resist taking a photo of these tourists (above) standing in line while taking photos of the Duomo (Florence’s magnificent cathedral) and Giotto’s bell tower (I took more or less the same photo after they’d left, as you can see). Too cute!

Well, okay, I guess that’s about it for today. I’m still working on a couple of posts, but Stefano and I have visitors staying with us this weekend, and I’ve been getting ready for that. Not easy, especially since we are still dealing with our newly adopted — elderly but feisty — kitty, Pammy. Speaking of Pammy, we figure that at least one of her ancestors must have been a barn owl. Seriously. IMG_9995Whenever one of our other cats gets too close to Pammy, she emits the loudest and scariest screeeeeeech I have ever heard…I mean, it makes me jump! And it makes the other cats run for their lives and hide. It’s understandable: Pammy has had to defend herself from other aggressive outside cats for the past 9-10 years. So she needs time to adjust…I just hope this screeching business will stop soon…uhm, my nerves, y’know… ;-)

And finally, speaking of cats, my sweet handsome little boy, Prezzemolo, would like to wish a very HAPPY HALLOWEEN to everyone! :-)

Hilarious Tuesday

Too funny! You have to watch this video, which shows a baby laughing hysterically…but wait until you find out WHY he is laughing (awwww, too adorable!!!)…It’s a must-see that will brighten your day, afternoon, or evening…Enjoy! :-)

Monday pandas

I just watched a short video showing a man trying to give some medicine to a couple of very playful pandas. And here I thought that giving medicine to a cat was an almost impossible feat! Hah! :) Anyway, the video is unbelievably cute and amusing, so….enjoy! Here’s the link: http://goo.gl/QEBR54

Incidentally, right now I’m working on a complex blog post (basically, I’m trying to transform some impossible scientific language into something a bit more comprehensible…aaaaagh! I’ve been sweating over this stuff for days, now…sick of it, to be honest, even though, yes, some of it has been interesting)…I hope to finish it by the weekend. What a challenge…pant pant.

In the meantime, I have a couple of other things that I mean to post about. Sooooo…stay tuned! Ciao! :-)

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! :-)