Spello

IMG_4841Boy, time does fly, doesn’t it? I mean, I haven’t posted anything on the blog in about three weeks…how did THAT happen??? Well, it’s just that life here has gotten quite busy…translations to do, but also quite a bit of fun stuff, such as Stefano’s birthday, gatherings with friends, day trips, etc. :-)

Before going on, I have a couple of quick medical updates:

  1. My doctor confirmed last week that I have no bone lesions. So I had indeed read my MRI report correctly. :-) Sure, I do have a few hernias here and there, but nothing to worry about….old stuff that is still there, basically.
  2. Last week I also had a test that in Italian is called “ecocolordoppler dei tronchi sovraortici,” which I found translated as “Doppler of the supra-aortic vessels.” It basically means that I got an ultrasound of the carotid arteries in my neck. IMG_4848My family doctor wanted me to have this test because of my high-ish cholesterol, which, for the record, HAS gone down a lot since I’ve been taking curcumin but is still above the normal range. Anyway, I think he’ll be pleased to learn that everything is fine…the carotids are clear!

Now, I should note that today’s post has nothing to do with…spelling. It has to do instead with an Italian town called Spello. Last week I accompanied Stefano on a sort of business trip that landed us near this ancient walled town located in the Italian region of Umbria, a two-hour drive from Florence. Since we hadn’t been to Spello yet, we decided to stop there for lunch. I’m so glad we did!!!

IMG_4853Spello, surrounded by well-preserved medieval walls built on Roman foundations, is listed among Italy’s “most beautiful villages”…and for a very good reason: it’s absolutely lovely…a real gem…and, BONUS!!!, off the well-beaten tourist path, which meant that most of the time we found ourselves wandering alone among its rose-colored stone houses…and up and down its stone alleys. Stunning. Absolutely stunning. My photos don’t do it justice…

In addition to the beauty of Spello, another thing that really struck us was the friendliness of its inhabitants…and how openly proud they are of their town…Stefano and I got stopped many times by the locals and told where to go for the best photos and so on (“Have you seen this? Have you been there?,” we were asked on more than one occasion). One guy sitting on a doorstep started telling us the story of his life…boy, what a character he was! Anyway, these chance encounters made our visit even more enjoyable…IMG_4855

Another characteristic of Spello: there were beautiful blooming flowers, plants of all sorts, and flower pots everywhere. Every year, in early July, the best plant and flower arrangements receive an official award from the town. All first, second and third place winners have a handmade ceramic tile stuck to the wall of their home (this, on the right, is a photo of the second-prize winner in 2014). These award tiles really show how proud the people of Spello are of their town…IMG_4931

Speaking of flowers, Spello is well-known for its annual “infiorata” (that is, flower festival), which takes place in late May/early June, precisely on the ninth Sunday after Easter. The night before the “infiorata,” hundreds of people work like maniacs, covering the squares and alleys of their town with intricate and spectacular flower arrangements…flower paintings, really. The artists have to abide by strict rules…for example, they can’t use wood or synthetic materials.

But…we just missed it…Oh well. Can’t have everything. 😉

After visiting Spello, I got to thinking that there are so many beautiful places that we still haven’t visited and that aren’t far from Florence…

We need to take more of these day trips! :-)

How mood/depression can affect cancer patients and their partners

A hot-off-the-press study (see this super-easy-to-read summary given by Cancer Compasshttp://goo.gl/HNtZk9) suggests that the mental health of cancer patients is strongly affected by that of their spouses/partners/caregivers….as follows: if your partner is depressed, you are more likely to get depressed, too; if your partner is in good mental shape, so are you. Actually, I wasn’t surprised at all by this finding…It makes sense.

But here’s something that did surprise me: “the mood of the cancer survivors did not have a significant influence on their spouses’ risk for depression.” Ah, so it’s not reciprocal…

Food for thought.

This article made me think about how cancer has affected my relationship with Stefano. It’s impossible to know how different things would/might have been, since myeloma (first MGUS, then SMM) has been in our lives almost from the beginning…          _1050543

Of course I can’t ignore the fact that I’ve been incredibly lucky…thus far, anyway (knock on wood!!!)–no CRAB symptoms, no conventional treatments…a very high QOL ( the acronym stands for “quality of life”)…and now I’m in my 10th year of living with smoldering myeloma…Yes, very lucky indeed!

But…what if I hadn’t been so lucky? What if my myeloma had been more aggressive? What if I hadn’t come across the curcumin-myeloma study at MD Anderson so many years ago? What if…hmmm, well, we can’t live by “what ifs,” so I’ll leave it at that…

Oh, one last thing: any thoughts or reactions to the Cancer Compass article would be very welcome, so please leave me a comment here on the blog or send me an email. Thanks! Hey, what can I say…I’m a curious gal! 😉

New case study: a patient with laryngeal amyloidosis and smoldering myeloma is stable after five years of taking curcumin…

More evidence supporting the use of curcumin in patients with MGUS, SMM, MM and, now, amyloidosis or AL.

Yes, true, this is “just” a case report, carried out at St. George Hospital in Sydney, Australia…an anecdote, many would say. But then again, so is my story, and so are the many similar stories of everyone who’s taking curcumin…

And these anecdotes do add up, don’t they?

At any rate, you can read the entire story here, for FREE: http://goo.gl/YFCM8Y (once you are on the Case Report page, look to the right and click on “Provisional PDF.”)

The report isn’t difficult to read, so I won’t bother giving you a summary or rather, BORE you with a summary. 😉 If you don’t want to read the whole shebang, though, just scroll down to the “Discussion” part…

Oh, I almost forgot: please note HOW MUCH curcumin this guy has been taking to obtain these results…Interesting, huh?

A highly recommended read…indeed!

More gray matter in the frontal cortex…

Thanks to my blog reader and Facebook friend Cathy for the link to an intriguing Washington Post interview with a Harvard Medical School neuroscientist on the benefits of mindfulness meditation. Now, we all know that meditation reduces stress and anxiety, but that isn’t all it does…Check out this link: http://goo.gl/KQCt3r

Now, if you’ve never meditated before and don’t know where to begin, you can go to this UCLA website and follow their FREE guided meditation sessions: http://goo.gl/nSJgwK Just close your eyes and listen, it’s as simple as that. The sessions won’t take up much of your time…one of them is just three minutes long, for example. I’ve found them very helpful…for starters, anyway.

Okay, off I go. I want to add some gray matter to my frontal cortex… 😉

“The many benefits of turmeric”…

The title of today’s post is part of the title of a Huffington Post article published four days ago, an article discussing the many disease-fighting benefits of turmeric and of its extract, curcumin, which many of us know so well! The article doesn’t provide ALL the benefits of curcumin/turmeric (that would be near to impossible!), but it mentions quite a few.

Here’s the link: http://goo.gl/kEvVC8

Enjoy! :-)

No lesions!!!

_1020387I had an MRI of my entire spinal column done earlier this week, and the results are in. Now, the doctor will have to confirm this next month, BUT I am almost 100% sure that I don’t have any bone lesions or anything else that has to do with myeloma.

I wrote “almost 100% sure” just in case I’m wrong, since these lab results are written in what I’m sure is an alien language…But I’ve looked up all the terms I didn’t know, and it all translates to a few small hernias (which haven’t bothered me thus far) and mostly insignificant stuff.

By the way, I had this MRI mainly because I hadn’t had one since 2009, not because of any back pain or whatnot…Just a checkup, that is…

True, my posture isn’t that great, and the MRI confirms that. I spend a lot of time in front of the computer doing research, etc., so I really must do something about that. I’ve already downloaded some easy-to-do postural exercises…

But today I’m celebrating. Because the main thing is…………………………………..

NO LESIONS!

P.S. I took this photo in April 2015, just outside of the town of San Quirico d’Orcia, in southern Tuscany. Such a gorgeous region…

The impact of an iron fish on anemia

Many thanks to a longtime blog reader who posted this link on Facebook yesterday: http://goo.gl/87YqMr

The link will take you to a BBC News story about how a a graduate from the University of Guelph, Canada, forever changed the lives of rural village dwellers in Cambodia, plagued by anemia.

In the spring of 2008, Christopher Charles moved to rural Cambodia to work on a three month project dealing with anemia, a “huge public health problem” in those rural areas. He ended up staying for 5 years. And, after many failures, he came up with the brilliant “iron fish” idea described in the article.

It worked. After 12 months, almost half the villagers in Dr. Charles’ trial were no longer suffering from anemia.

Such a simple but brilliant solution…

Dr. Charles held this TED talk in 2014: https://goo.gl/uOSuyr Here he tells the full story. Mesmerizing, absolutely mesmerizing.

In short, I very highly recommend both the BBC article and the TED talk, especially for anyone dealing with, or attempting to prevent, anemia.

One of my neighbors is a blacksmith. I’m going to ask him to make an iron fish for me. Why not? Can’t hurt…

“Perfect nails, poisoned workers”

This is the title of a recently published New York Times article (thanks, Ginnie!) discussing the link between the chemicals used in nail and beauty products and serious health problems. One of the “problems” mentioned is multiple myeloma, even though “firm conclusions are elusive” because there aren’t enough studies out there: http://goo.gl/hpOQP8 I should note that the article refers to cosmetologists, not to the people who wear nail polish, etc.

But even if there turn out not to be any links to myeloma and/or the other horrible things mentioned in this article (although I find that extremely doubtful), why would ANYONE want to have hazardous chemicals painted onto their nails? It beats me…but then, I’ve never been interested in stuff like that. Just the smell of nail polish has always made me run in the opposite direction…

Anyway, this is a very interesting read…highly recommended!

Anniversary

It’s not a myeloma anniversary, although I have now fully entered my 10th year of living with smoldering myeloma. No, today’s a HAPPY day. It’s our 16th wedding anniversary.05.10.25-Favorite-0003

It’s hard to put feelings into words. I’m not a poet, just someone who deeply loves her life partner and best friend. And I don’t want to get all mushy, either.

But I can and will say that the years with Stefano have been the happiest of my life, in spite of my SMM diagnosis (I was diagnosed with MGUS the year we were married…1999). And I know it’s been the same for him. Together we’ve been on many adventures and have discovered a mutual love for photography and birdwatching, just to name a couple of things.

And to think that we might never have met, if I’d accepted a teaching job at a well known Canadian university (offered to me even before I had my Ph.D., imagine that?, a job that I turned down, imagine that, too!!!, for no good reason at the time…a gut feeling, perhaps? Who knows?)…

But meet we did…at a dinner organized for that very purpose (as we later discovered!) by a dear, mutual friend here in Florence. A very lucky evening for both of us…

Here’s to 16 more (and more and more!!!), Stefano! :-) Ti amo tantissimo, moro!

(Was that too mushy?)

Making connections: myeloma, telomeres and…

This is the title of a Scientific American article, titled “Changing our DNA through mind control?”, that I read months ago and put away for when I had a bit of time/desire to do some research. Here’s the link to the article: http://goo.gl/TAkzK6

The gist is that mindfulness meditation (about which I’ve written a few posts in the past) is, and I quote, “associated with preserved telomere length. Telomeres are stretches of DNA that cap our chromosomes and help prevent chromosomal deterioration — biology professors often liken them to the plastic tips on shoelaces. Shortened telomeres aren’t known to cause a specific disease per se, but they do whither with age and are shorter in people with cancer, diabetes, heart disease and high stress levels. We want our telomeres intact.” (P.S. “whither with age?” Harrumph…!!!) senesence

Well, in spite of its unfortunate typo, this SA article inspired me to put on my research cap, after I discovered that telomeres are strongly involved in myeloma progression–short telomeres, to be more specific. So let’s have a look at some of the studies I’ve read or glanced at in PubMed in the past few days and try to figure out what’s going on…

A 2012 Spanish study published in the Journal of Cellular and Molecular Medicine suggests that MM cells maintain short telomeres for proliferation purposes: http://goo.gl/yhpsaj.

Excerpt: maintaining short telomeres is “a mechanism contributing to MM tumour cells expansion in the bone marrow.” These crappy malignant cells of ours manage to keep their telomeres right above the critical level, that is, the level under which they would eventually have to die. In other words, MM cells use short telomeres to stay alive as long as possible, thus avoiding the normal process of apoptosis, or cell death. As we know by now (I’ve written a bunch of posts about apoptosis…use the handy “Search” box to find ’em), apoptosis occurs on a regular basis in normal cells–as I understand it, their telomeres start getting shorter and shorter, and eventually the cells stop reproducing and die off…But myeloma cells want to live forever, so they have “devised” a way of keeping their telomeres above the critical “too short” level…Quite an extraordinary accomplishment, actually, when you think about it…

And it is in this study, ladies and gentlemen!, where I first read that one of the differences between MGUS and MM is that telomeres are shorter in MM patients. 

There is more. And I quote, “in MM high telomerase activity and short telomere length defined a subgroup of patients with poor prognosis and shorter mean survival.”

A Translational Oncology study from 2013 depicts an even scarier scenario, depicting vile interactions between telomeres and myeloma cells: http://goo.gl/vGB2dD These researchers carried out a three-dimensional (3D) analysis of the telomeres obtained from blood and bone marrow samples of MGUS and MM patients, including relapsed MM patients…mostly in the IgG group. It’s an important study for us because it links shorter telomeres to progression from MGUS to MM.

Excerpt (my highlight): “This study showed changes in 3D nuclear architecture during disease progression from MGUS to MM, based on our findings of increased telomere attrition, resulting in shorter telomeres in MM, as well as in MMrel, compared to MGUS.” So this study reaches the same conclusion as the above-mentioned Spanish study.

Now, I don’t know if you are thinking of the same questions that popped into my mind as I was reading and trying to figure out all this stuff, but anyway, here’s one of ’em: wait a sec, if short telomeres are bad, would’t it be worse to have long ones, which theoretically have a longer life span?

I got my answer today (quelle coincidence!) in this Cancer Compass alert: http://goo.gl/VhljLV It’s easy to read, btw, so do have a look. Basically, it reports on a newly published study showing that “a pattern of change in DNA that may signal the development of cancer long before a standard diagnosis can be made.” And, drum roll, this pattern concerns our very own telomeres. Apparently, the “telomeres belonging to future cancer patients may shorten in length to such a degree that they resemble telomeres belonging to people 15 years older.” Bingo.

Connections. In order to stop progression, we need to have longer telomeres.

Okay, I think we’re done with telomeres for now. So let’s have a quick look at telomerase, which is also important in myeloma. In a nutshell, telomerase is an enzyme that helps prevent the shortening of telomeres, thus preventing a cell from aging. Easy peasy so far…

But what does this really mean for us? Well, the above-mentioned 2012 Spanish study (and there are others, not cited here), suggests that an increase in telomerase activity (or TA) helps MM cells survive. I had a look at a whole bunch of PubMed studies showing that MM cells have a hard time proliferating when telomerase activity is inhibited.

So, simply put: inhibition of TA is good.

In conclusion, we want longer telomeres and less TA activity in our MM cells.

And here’s the answer to another question that popped into my mind: yes, yes, yes, among the million other things it does, curcumin also inhibits telomerase activity. And it also apparently helps preserve telomere length (!), possibly even improve it. Wowsie.

According to this 2006 study, “curcumin inhibits telomerase activity in a dose and time-dependent manner“: http://goo.gl/Tcz5HJ. It inhibits TA, thus shortening telomeres, which means, as we have seen before, that the cancer cell stops reproducing itself and dies. I think it’s obvious, but I suppose I should point out that in this case it’s good for the telomeres to be shortened, because it means they are at death’s door. The study, carried out on a leukemia cell line, also points out that the existing synthetic telomerase inhibitors “are always highly toxic,” something that, as we well know, curcumin is not.

Another study, published in 2015, confirms that curcumin diminishes TA, leading to death of the cancer cell: http://goo.gl/eX5nHH In PuBMed there are currently 34 studies on the impact of curcumin on telomerase. Considering the fact that curcumin won’t make piles of money for anyone, that’s quite a good number, methinks.

As for other naturally-derived substances and their possible effect on telomere length and telomerase, well, I need more time to look into that…

A final note: I also read that stress is linked to shorter telomeres. And so is lifestyle. And those are my final serious thoughts for today! This afternoon I’m going off to play cards with my friends… :-)