It’s official: I’m old

IMG_5315On Friday my elementary-level students and I did a quick English grammar review. We asked and answered questions such as “where are you from?” “what’s your name?” “do you like chocolate?” “is he Japanese?” “where were you born?” and so on. Typical review questions.

But the answer to this particular one, coupled with the initially baffled look on my student’s face, almost made me die laughing:

I asked: “How old is Margaret?”

My student replied: “She’s old.”

:-)

“Educate your immune system”

I just finished reading a fascinating New York Times article on the immune system and thought I’d post the link. Remember my April 5 post, “The gut factor,” on the connection between gut bacteria and cancer? Well, this article provides more food for thought in that same area: http://goo.gl/cVDygk

Note: toward the end of the article, there is a reference to the Epstein-Barr virus and the risk of developing multiple sclerosis. No, no mention of multiple myeloma. However, I still think it is of interest to those of us who have had EBV in the past and would like to know about any possible repercussions…

Links, links, links…

P.S. By the way, since I have received a couple of condolence notes, I thought I should mention that my mother is not only alive but is actually doing a bit better these days. She has begun eating a bit more, gaining a bit of weight, and seems more interested in interacting with others. When Stefano and I left the U.S.A. to return to our home in Florence just a few weeks ago, her situation seemed hopeless. I didn’t think she had long to live, to be honest.

But now…who knows?

New study: early-stage MGUS/SMM/CLL patients test arabinoxylan rice bran and curcumin

Back in 2011 I wrote a brief post/page (if you use my Search box, you can find the page easily) about a study showing that a special type of rice bran (MGN-3/Biobran) combined with curcumin annihilated U266 myeloma cells.

This study was carried out on cells, though, not human beings.

But today, about five years later, we have the results of a small study carried out on 20 curcumin-taking human beings with stable, early-stage MGUS, SMM, and CLL (chronic lymphocytic leukemia).

And it’s a Terry Golombick (et al) study, to boot.

Here’s the link to the full study, which is available for free online (love that!): http://goo.gl/6n2X3U

The Golombick team tested Ribraxx, a combination of a rice bran and shiitake mushroom extract (too bad it isn’t chocolate with almonds!!!), together with a form of C3 Complex curcumin called Curcuforte (which I’d never heard of before…it’s made by an Australian company), on a group of 10 MGUS/SMM patients and 10 CLL patients.

At a certain point, they mention a  previous study, which I missed (!) but will go read tomorrow, on 48 myeloma patients who took two grams of this Ribraxx per day. The results were: increased NK (natural killer) cell activity, increased levels of mDCs (myeloid dendritic cells) in the peripheral blood and of Th-1-related cytokines. Yes, definitely need to check this out…

But right now I have time only for the Golombick study. The MGUS/SMM/CLL patients took a daily dose of six grams of Curcuforte and two grams of Ribraxx, in divided doses.

The study monitored a whole bunch of markers, including CRP, FBC, paraprotein, ESR, B2M and so on. You can read about the markers on page 3, in the “Results” part. Just a few highlights:

  • 8 out of 10 patients saw their neutrophil count increase. Five of them had been neuropenic when they began the study, so that is very good news for them.
  • Some of the patients experienced a reduction in their ESR; two of them had an 80% reduction…wowsie.

Personal note: throughout the years, my ESR levels have gone down substantially on curcumin alone. In spite of a bit of fluctuation, they have never returned to the high levels that I had back in 2005. Based on my most recent tests, in fact, my ESR levels are less than half (!) what they were in the pre-curcumin period…Not too shabby!

This reduction might be more important than I knew. On page 5 of the study, in fact, I discovered something that I did not know:  “In multiple myeloma of the IgG and IgA subtypes, significant correlations have been found between ESR and the monoclonal proteins and between the ESR and percentage of plasma cells in bone marrow.” It might even be “an independent prognostic factor for survival in patients with MM.”

Ouch!

Now I’m even gladder that my ESR levels have decreased more than 50% compared to 2005…!!!

Well, I have to go off to have dinner now (first the cats, then us). But I didn’t want to wait until tomorrow to publish this post…so…here goes! I hope you enjoy this study! Ciao!

My Dad, the comedian

Last week, when my Dad was checked into the rehab clinic for pneumonia, one of the nurses started asking him the standard questions that are part of the admissions process–where do you live, what’s your date of birth, what medications do you take…that sort of thing…

Everything went fine until she reached this question: “If your heart should stop, do you authorize us to get it going again?”

Without missing a beat, Dad said: “Well, that depends. Are you any good at that?”

When it rains, it pours…

Stefano and I returned to Italy a couple of days ago. Those ten days we spent in the U.S.A. might well have been the worst days of my life thus far…worse even than when I received my cancer diagnosis…I mean, it was simply awful awful awful, every day, every minute of every day…

The “good” thing is that Stefano and I did get to Cape Cod in time to say goodbye to Mom, and in fact she is still alive. But I don’t think she will last very much longer. She is amazingly weak…The nurse practitioner, whom Stefano and I went to see shortly after we arrived, told us that “there is no going back.”

She’s dying. She isn’t eating enough to keep herself alive…

The “funny” thing is that she is drinking colas (sweetened, carbonated soft drinks) every day. This started back in February, when she began experiencing a lot of nausea after her second hip operation. She now drinks two or three colas a day, at least. My mother wouldn’t have touched a cola with a ten-foot pole a few months ago. But now she finds them “refreshing.” Under other circumstances, that would have been very amusing…very amusing indeed.

She is also drinking small shakes containing Ensure (yes, yes, yes, I know that this stuff is crap, mainly water and sweeteners and chemicals…But she likes the taste, so…whatever…).

The entire time I was there, the only solid food I saw her eat was a small slice of quiche…oh and a tiny bowl of jello. She waves food away. She doesn’t want any. My sister has tried bringing her all sorts of goodies. Nothing has worked.

And now it’s too late.

Stefano and I went to say our final goodbye to Mom on Monday morning, before leaving for Boston Logan airport. She was turned on her side, fast asleep.

I began saying, more loudly each time, “Mom…Mooom…MOM…MOOOOOM!!!!!,” but she didn’t wake up. I began gently shaking her shoulder, then a bit more forcefully, still calling her. No reaction. The thought that she might have slipped into a coma crossed my mind, so I ran to the nurses’ station for help. A nurse rushed in and did what I had done, talking to Mom and shaking her shoulder.

Mom finally opened her eyes. And so we had a little more time together. I pretended to have an allergy when I felt tears welling up in my eyes as I told her that we are all okay (and similar “goodbye” sentences)…But she seemed not to notice…The tiny little creature in that bed really isn’t my Mom anymore…

Later on that day, I thought that going into a coma wouldn’t be such a bad way to go. No pain, just…sleep. I hope that will be the way she will slip away from us…

But let’s get to the title of my post. When it rains, it pours.

Exactly a week ago, on Thursday evening, my Dad said he didn’t feel too well and wanted to go to bed before dinner. My sister and I tucked him in, and he reassured us that he would be okay. After dinner, I went upstairs to check on him, and he looked and felt awful. He had a fit of the chills, so I took his temperature, which turned out to be rather high. I went downstairs to tell my sister and get him a glass of water and some Tylenol. The two of us decided to take him to see the doctor in the morning if he wasn’t feeling much better.

When I got back upstairs, I saw Dad staggering toward the bathroom, moaning and groaning, all bent over. I rushed to him and grabbed him just in time, before he fell down, I mean. He’s a tall guy, too heavy for me, so I yelled for help. Stefano and my nephew came running and gently lowered Dad to the bathroom floor. My sister called an ambulance, while I asked Dad some questions to make sure he hadn’t suffered a stroke. He was a bit confused but answered the basic questions…

The long and short of it is that Dad spent three days in the hospital. Diagnosis: pneumonia. He is now out of the hospital and, get this!, he is in the same clinic where Mom is, except Dad is in the rehab part…

So right now, Mom and Dad are under the same roof, and he can visit her for longer periods of time. That is not a bad thing, all things considered. They have been happily married for 61 years…

It was hard for me to get on that plane bound for Italy on Monday. I broke down at the airport when I realized that I probably won’t see my Mom alive again. But Stefano and I had to get home. And it’s just as well we did…

IMG_6311My cat sitter called us as soon as we landed to let me know that she’d found quite a bit of blood on the bathroom floor the previous evening. She had examined all the cats but hadn’t been able to figure out which one had been bleeding…

So Stefano and I went looking for Puzzola, our eldest cat, the only one who hadn’t greeted us at the door. We finally found her all scrunched up a corner of the bathroom. She wasn’t moving, and she didn’t react to our calling her name and petting her. When we spotted the blood underneath her, we rushed her immediately to the vet clinic.

Thank goodness it turned out not to be a hemorrhage of any sort but “only” a very bad bladder infection. So now she is on antibiotics…and she is going to be fine.

Welcome home.

P.S. Incidentally, Priscilla, the cat who had convulsions before we left for the U.S.A., is fine. The vets couldn’t find anything wrong with her…nothing in her X-rays or in her blood tests. We’ll just keep a close eye on her and hope it was a one-time, weird thingy.

Sad times

Well, as the nurse at the Cape Cod nursing home informed me last week over the phone, my Mom is “on her way out.” So Stefano and I are leaving on Saturday for the U.S.A. To say goodbye to Mom…hoping to get there in time…

Sad times.

I can’t concentrate right now on anything beyond the necessary daily tasks, such as taking care of the cats. Speaking of which, this morning one of my cats, our 11-year-old Priscilla, suddenly fell out of her hammock, located on the tall cat tree next to my desk, and went splat! on the ground. Her paws gave in…I think she landed on her stomach. _1080736Then she began having convulsions. Very scary. I threw myself on the ground and held her and soothed her until the convulsions stopped. She is stable now, asleep on our bed, but I’m taking her in to see the vet-neurologist this afternoon. (This is a recent photo of her.)

When it rains, it pours. So true.

Anyway, take care, everyone! I will try to post updates from time to time during this very difficult period for me and my family…Ciao!

The gut factor

Before I give you the link to a very interesting article I read in “The Scientist” this morning on the connection between gut bacteria and cancer, I should really tell you why I haven’t been posting lately. I got back from my emergency trip to the U.S. almost a month ago, but since then I’ve been terribly busy…lots going on…and I’ve also been terribly worried about my mother, who is still in the rehab clinic and not doing as well as she should be at this stage. Luckily, my sister is there, taking care of everything, but the daily updates she gives me by phone and email are hard to take, at times. Well, fingers crossed…

So, yes, in short, I just haven’t felt like posting…

But from now on I will make an effort to post more frequently, especially if I read something that tickles my brain cells, which happened with the above-mentioned article. Here is the link: http://goo.gl/O1BDZ5 I warn you, it’s long!

The article doesn’t mention myeloma or any other type of blood cancer, but in the second paragraph it does bring up the possibility that gut bacteria could “contribute to cancer cell death, even in tumors far from the gastrointestinal tract. The most logical link between the microbiome and cancer is the immune system. Resident microbes can either dial up inflammation or tamp it down, and can modulate immune cells’ vigilance for invaders. Not only does the immune system appear to be at the root of how the microbiome interacts with cancer therapies, it also appears to mediate how our bacteria, fungi, and viruses influence cancer development in the first place.”

Myeloma…immune system…microbes…

???

So if you have some free time in the next couple of days, put your feet up and take a look at this article. And, by the way, any thoughts would be most appreciated. Leave me a comment or two! :-) Thank you!

P.S. A blog reader sent me a link (https://goo.gl/LdXif3) to a recent “Guardian” article discussing how our gut microbes may even affect our behavior, thoughts, and moods…as well as the structure and function of our brains. This might turn out to be good news for folks who have multiple sclerosis, for example. So, another very interesting read. Very!

Emergency trip to the U.S.A.

We’ve had a family emergency: my Mom fell down in the living room and fractured her hip a few days ago. She’s in the hospital now and has already had an operation to put three screws into her hip. So far so good. When I spoke with her yesterday, she was already out of bed, sitting in a chair, having lunch. But my parents are going to need some help in the next few weeks. So I’m leaving for the States tomorrow…

I find myself apologizing (again!) to those of you who have written to me and have not yet received a reply. I really need an assistant! 😉 A helpful hint: whenever you have a question, please use the blog’s “Search” box (in the upper right-hand corner) first, before dropping me a note, I mean. That Search box is such a handy tool: I use it myself from time to time, in fact. I mention this because often I see that many of your queries have already been answered on the blog…

That said, I’ll try to answer every single message when I get back to Italy in early March. That’s the best I can do. This has been a horrendously busy period for me, and the next few weeks are going to be hectic, too…Still, sorry about the wait!!! Really really sorry…

Okay, I’ve been up since 4:30 AM, and I have about a million errands to do today, so off I go. Take care, everyone!!! :-)