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!!! :-)


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:

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!

To treat or not to treat is still a question

This morning I read a very interesting “food for thought” article, just published in the “Oncology Times,” about the same old same old (question)…that is, should patients with so-called “high risk” smoldering myeloma be treated…or not? Here’s the link (you can download the entire article; look on the right, under “Article Tools”): hamlet-duplex-mankoff

I decided to publish the link without adding any comments, since, duh, you can imagine which approach I would choose…no mystery there. And my position in this matter is merely reinforced (in MY opinion, of course) by Dr. Berenson’s comments on the Spanish “high-risk” SMM chemo trial…for example, the “significant design problems” of that trial…hah, no kidding!

I thought it was noteworthy that Dr. Berenson mentions “curcumin” on page 25. Curcumin, as we well know, has  been totally ignored/dismissed/ridiculed/etc. by our specialists and only recently has managed to catch their attention…probably since so many of us take it…

Boy, sometimes it feels as though I’m beating my head against a brick wall…mamma mia.

Incidentally, I was surprised by the audience’s choice, in the end. Very surprised. Or was I, deep down? Hmmm…not sure. Oops, I promised NOT TO COMMENT. Drat. Okay, I will shut up now.

Anyway, whichever side you are on, this is an interesting debate…

If only we were disinterested spectators…

A new myeloma-killer, beer and the brain, and the immune system…

beer_toastI don’t know where to begin…I read so many interesting articles today! Well, I’ll pick three of them, randomly, as follows…

  • A group of Neapolitan researchers have created a new synthetic molecule that they0ve called DTP3, which kills myeloma cells effectively, without killing healthy cells at the same time. It’s as strong as bortezomib (!) “but more than 100-fold higher cancer cell specificity in vitro,” according to the abstract. Here’s the link to the full study, which is available for free online (I confess, I’ve only read the abstract at this point, though): So here it seems that we have something that kills MM cells without killing the good stuff as well…if that’s not cause for celebration, I don’t know what is!!! And I’m excited also because this is an entirely “made in Italy” discovery. :-) The study was published, as you can see, in October of 2014, but today I read an article about it (in Italian) providing a bit more information. Here’s the link:  The items of interest mentioned in the Italian article are as follows: 1. the concentrations of DTP3 needed to kill myeloma cells are very low (always a good thing, no?). 2. DTP3 blocks the activity of the myeloma cell helper known as GADD45beta, a protein that is over-expressed in myeloma cells but practically absent in healthy cells. 3. Phase I clinical trials are set to begin in the United Kingdom this year. I’ll be following DTP3, for sure…
  • I also read a Scientific American article on a new study showing that our immune system is much more affected by our environment and life habits than by our inherited DNA: The study’s findings regarding cytomegalovirus and Epstein Barr are quite intriguing, by the way. It has always been in the back of my mind, in fact, that EBV had something to do with the development of my own MGUS, then SMM, and that is why the “evil virus” topic has always been of interest to me…Anyway, this is another highly recommended read. Oh, and it’s not too difficult to understand, either, which is always a big bonus!
  • In 2008 I wrote a post on xanthohumol, a compound found in the hop plant ( = BEER!!!). In a nutshell, a study showed that xanthohumol has anti-inflammatory, antiproliferative and antiangiogenic properties. Mainly, though, it KILLED myeloma and leukemia cells. Here’s a refresher: Well, today I read a Science Daily article on a new study showing that this compound may also slow the development of brain disorders, including Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s Disease: Very interesting. Too bad I don’t care much for beer…!!! Uff!!!

Celebrating my Italy

Thanks to a good friend, I was able to watch a wonderful video about Italy, produced by the Italian Ministry of Economic Development, which I hope will obliterate at least some of the amazingly dumb and ignorant stereotypes about Italians that have always driven me absolutely bonkers. It’s a short video that anyone with an interest in anything Italian should watch. Enjoy! :-)

An expert defines multiple myeloma

In this short (less than five minutes) video, Dr. Robert Orlowski, from the MD Anderson Cancer Research Center in Texas, provides us with a simple explanation of what multiple myeloma is. It’s always good to go over the basics…again, so here is the link:

A note of interest: about halfway through, he mentions that 1 out of 5 people are “asymptomatic” at the time of diagnosis…That, I didn’t know.

A note of dislike: this video, sponsored by the Patient Empowerment Network, was made thanks to grants from three big drug companies: Onyx, Novartis, and Millennium (this is openly stated at the beginning of the video, if you watch carefully).

No getting around it. That’s where the big money is. And that’s WHY more money and resources aren’t poured into promising, non-toxic research…so sad, so maddening…

Well, for once let’s try to forget about the big drug companies and concentrate instead on the video…

Turmeric compound boosts regeneration of brain stem cells

I’ve been working on a rather complicated post (don’t ask…) but decided to take a break today, after what happened in Paris yesterday…No words can express my horror..all I can say is: “Je Suis Charlie.”

It’s hard to focus on anything else…but earlier today I came across an intriguing Science Daily article on a study showing that another compound of turmeric — not curcumin, but something called ar-turmerone — “promotes stem cell regeneration and differentiation in the brain.” And so I decided to post the link:

In addition to imbibing vast quantities of curcumin every day, I also use turmeric, the spice, in my cooking. Often. And now I’m VERY glad I do!

Buon Anno!

HNY 2015Happy New Year, everyone! I hope you all had a wonderful evening, just like the one I had, with friends, family and/or…whomever…great food, games, fun, chocolate, good music, and lots of hugs and kisses. I spent New Year’s Eve at home with my Stefano and five close friends, two of whom had moved in with us before Xmas (together with their three cats who are living in a cat-friendly, cozy room downstairs…We are keeping our cats separated from theirs, since this is only a temporary situation, plus Prezzemolo might infect their cats with his chronic cold issue, which would be terrible!), just for a few weeks while they get ready to move overseas…

Stefano, who is an amazing cook, really outdid himself. He prepared a meal fit for a king…course after course after course of absolutely wonderful food. One of the courses had to include a pot full of lentils…According to (Italian) tradition, in fact, you have to eat lentils on New Year’s Eve: lentils are supposed to bring you money in the new year. Every single Italian I know has lentils in this period. And in any case, I love lentils…and besides, they contain IRON!

We laughed, discussed politics (luckily, we all pretty much agreed on everything!), New York City, art, food (of course!), etc….played games and…kept eating until we could eat no more. After HOURS of stuffing our faces, unable to stop because everything was so delicious, I began to feel a bit like an overstuffed turkey. Mamma mia! And I haven’t even mentioned dessert!!! I’d made a couple of gluten-free sweets (mainly for my two gluten-free friends), which turned out incredibly well…and another friend had made a delicious gluten-free apple cake with pecans, coconut milk and cinnamon, plus Xmas gluten-free cookies. We have enough leftovers to feed an army of people…

Anyway, we had such a glorious time that we nearly missed the midnight countdown. Now that would have been funny… :-D

The photo above was taken by Stefano of a beautiful stray cat in Rome (that was our Domus Aurea trip). He gave me permission to publish it on my blog, so…enjoy! Let’s hope that 2015 brings happiness and, most of all, GOOD HEALTH to all of us. Take care, everyone! :-)