Moments of pure happiness

I watched three movies while flying to Boston earlier this week. The one that gave me some tasty food for thought was titled “Hector and the search for happiness,” a quirky movie about a well-off London psychiatrist who becomes increasingly dissatisfied with his perfect, predictable, boring and empty (in my opinion, of course) life. When he realizes that his patients are not getting any happier, he tells his girlfriend that he wants to travel around the world to discover what happiness is, what makes people happy. So he sets off on a rather bizarre journey that takes him to China, (somewhere in) Africa and finally to California.

There were a few things I didn’t like about the movie (the obvious stereotypes, e.g.), but I was much intrigued by a question asked towards the end by Christopher Plummer (who plays the part of a professor studying the effects of happiness on the brain)…something like: “who among you has experienced a pure moment of happiness?”

I almost didn’t pay any attention to the rest of the movie. I was desperate to sift through my memories to find out if I’d ever experienced any moments of pure happiness. “What if I’ve never had any?” I was absolutely horrified at the thought.

Luckily, I came up with many such moments (mostly associated with Stefano, the love of my life), but the first that popped into my mind was the very first time I was sitting on a cliff surrounded by puffins, those funny-looking, wonderful sea birds…almost impossible to describe the way I felt…a truly magical moment…total bliss. The Welsh islands of Skomer and Skokholm have given me — and Stefano, too, I think — many moments of pure and absolute joy, and that is why we keep going back there, year after year. 2015 will be no exception, of course…we already have a reservation…

Interestingly, most of my memories seem to be concentrated in the past nine years or so, that is, in the period following my diagnosis of smoldering myeloma (2005). That is when I began focusing less on my career and more on enjoying my life…

Test results

P1000011 - Version 2Yesterday Stefano scanned my test results and sent them to me, but I was out and about having fun with my sister and testing my new camera (btw, check out the fog here on Cape Cod yesterday… amazing, huh? …You can barely make out a woman walking her dogs in this photo = Route 6A in Brewster, Massachusetts) so I really didn’t have enough time to sit down and write a proper post. Actually, sis and I have another fun day planned today, too — we’re driving to Provincetown in a couple of hours, e.g. — but I decided I didn’t want to wait until tomorrow to write my test result post, so here goes…

Some of my results were good…others, not-so-good…

Let’s look at the good stuff first:

  • ESR (Italian VES): same as it was in February 2014, no change
  • C-reactive protein: it’s actually decreased a little bit, from 0.23 to 0.17 mg/dL. Still way within the normal range
  • Serum creatinine: slightly down and, again, still way within the normal range
  • Creatinine clearance: perfectly within normal range
  • Serum iron and ferritin: stable, within normal range
  • Glucose: stable, within normal range
  • Uric acid: it was over the normal range last time but is now back within the range, which is excellent news
  • Cholesterol: down 8 points from last time, which might possibly have something to do with guggulsterone’s anti-cholesterol activity, but who knows?
  • Liver function (GGT, ALT, AST): beautifully within the normal range
  • Calcium: 8.9 mg/dL, down slightly from 9 mg/dL, so still stable and nicely normal. ;-)
  • Total protein: slightly down compared to last tests, even though it’s still a bit over the normal range.
  • No Bence Jones, as usual…yippeedoodee!
  • Total IgG is still high, and in fact I considered putting it in the “not-so-good” list, BUT it continues its downward trend (these results AND my February results), and that’s what’s important to me. IgM and IgA = no change compared to my previous two tests…still low but holding.
  • Freelites. My kappa/lambda ratio is a bit down, compared to my previous three tests. Good.

P1000025Not-so-good stuff:

  • My m-spike is slightly up compared to my last test. But it’s been higher in the past, so no worries. We’ll see how my next tests turn out. The seesaw effect…I’m used to it by now.
  • My red blood cells, hematocrit and hemoglobin have again slipped slightly under the normal range. Just slightly, but…darn it: I see molasses, flaxseed lignans, green veggies and, mostly, red meat in my near future. I can pull these numbers up, so I’m simply sighing a bit at this point.
  • Vitamin D is in the normal range but a bit on the low side. I haven’t been taking it consistently, I admit. Time to begin doing that…every day.

Sure, things could have been a lot better, but they could have also been a lot worse. So, all in all, I’m satisfied…And still happily smoldering away, fog or no fog… ;-)

Unfinished…but ready!

I’m leaving for the U.S. tomorrow morning (a 7 a.m. flightzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz).

Y’know, when I’m getting ready for a trip, I always delude myself into thinking that I’m so incredibly well-organized, with my to-do list and so on, and that I’ll be ready to leave DAYS before departure. But then, for some reason that still escapes me, in the end I’m always rushing around like a headless chicken. Quite puzzling.

Today, for example, I tried to complete at least one of my unfinished posts (research posts) AND make some soup for Stefano to eat while I’m gone AND…well, do a bunch of other boring but necessary stuff. Finally, late this afternoon, I gave up on the post (the soup came out really well, though :-) …one of my own inventions with squash, onions, beets, fennel, carrots, ginger, turmeric, cumin, and oh, a few other things, too). Well, all I can say is that I hope to find some time to finish my post while I’m at my parents’ house…

But I need to go to bed now. So take care, everyone…I’ll post about my test results as soon as I get them (I hope, on Wednesday, if Stefano can make it down to the lab before it closes…)…

Ciaooooooo! :-)

Test tip

I had my blood tests done this morning. The guy who drew my blood was a real champion…not. He stuck the needle in my arm but…nothing happened. No blood. He tried again, while I was watching. Again, no blood. So he began sort of poking around in my vein, and pulling back on the plunger.

“Ouch,” I exclaimed.

“Oh, sorry, did that hurt?” he asked, concerned.

“Yes, it did,” I grimaced.

“Well, this has never happened to me before. How strange. Where’s the blood???” he wondered out loud.

“I think it’s hiding because I didn’t have my cappuccino this morning,” I managed to say with a straight face.

“Ahhhh, is that right? Could be,” he smiled, still poking around.

Well, he finally got the right spot in my vein, thank goodness, and my blood began filling about one million test tubes. I am left with a bit of a reddish bump on my arm…otherwise, no harm done. I’m a tough gal, y’know!

My results will be ready on Wednesday…but by then I’ll be at my parents’ home in Massachusetts, so Stefano will have to scan and send them to me via email. Fingers crossed…

Okay, now for my “test tip” advice for the day, which I believe will come in very handy for those of you who are nervous about having your blood tested (this is not my case anymore, but you never know when you might come down with a case of the test jitters, so…might as well be prepared). I’ve probably mentioned this before, but hey, it never hurts to repeat potentially useful information, right? laughter-medicine

Here goes: when you go in for tests, take a funny book with you and read it while you’re waiting for your name to be called. This morning my choice fell on “Anguished English” by Richard Lederer…a very funny collection of English language bloopers. In the past, I’ve laughed out loud in waiting rooms, alarming other patients, so nowadays I really make an effort to keep my amusement to myself.

Oh, and here’s another great reason to read a funny book in the waiting room: in addition to relieving stress, laughter strengthens the immune system. It’s a win-win situation. :-)

Tests and trips

I still can’t believe I’m leaving for the U.S. NEXT TUESDAY! Yes, I am. No kidding. But…where did September and October go? I have no idea.

In addition to the fact that plane fares are much much lower in the off-season, which means I got an excellent deal!, here’s the main reason for my November U.S. trip: my Dad’s going to be 87 years old on November 19th. That deserves a party, don’t you think? :-) So part of my family is getting together…My sister, who lives in Arizona, will be on Cape Cod tomorrow morning, and I will get there on Tuesday, as mentioned above.

Arizona – Massachusetts – Italy. It’s not easy to be so far away from my family…but when we get together, it’s wonderful. I look forward to baking apple pies and making squash-based soups, playing Scrabble with my sister and my Dad (and losing, I’m sure!, since my sister plays Scrabble all the time, whereas I don’t…except when I’m with her or my niece…), and, well, just being with my family…

I’ll be in the States for two whole weeks. Stefano can’t get away right now, so he’s staying here in Florence with our SEVEN kitties. Poor guy. He’s definitely outnumbered! ;-) Speaking of the kitties, newly-arrived Pammy has adjusted splendidly to life inside our house. However, it hasn’t been that easy (see my recent “Blogging and strolling” post). _MG_2535

In the first week or so, Stefano and I weren’t sure that Pammy would settle down and get along with the other cats. She was so upset at times that we were even prepared to put her outside again…with much regret, of course. But she has now stopped screeching at the other cats and isn’t as bossy as she was a few weeks ago. She sleeps on our bed with the other cats, loves playing with the laser pointer toy, and has become the picture of bliss and happiness, purring all the time and coming up to us often to be petted. Mainly, though, she shows no interest in the outside world (where she wouldn’t survive, according to our vet). So no, it hasn’t been easy, but our patience has finally paid off. She’s a lovely cat, and we love her to bits.

Speaking of love: Pammy loves her wet food mixed with curcumin. :-) Yeah, she fits right into this household!

Another topic…an incredibly important one! Tomorrow I’m going to the lab to have my blood drawn. So today is “Bence Jones” day (yippee…er, not!). I was supposed to have my tests done back in May, after returning to Italy from our Easter trip to the U.S., but, as you may remember, my Dad had a stroke, so I didn’t come home until June…and I NEVER have tests done in hot weather (they always turn out worse…so “no-tests-in-summer” is a pet peeve of mine). Anyway, before leaving for the U.S., I wanted to have my tests done and over with. This is my guggulsterone experiment, by the way…hope it makes a difference!

Will you wish me luck for tomorrow? :-) Thanks!

MORE THAN NINE SMOLDERING YEARS…and still going strong…

Mates for life

A couple of nights ago Stefano and I watched an excellent nature program titled “Wild Italy,” which at one point focused on the jackdaws that live in and around the lovely town of Pitigliano in southern Tuscany. IMG_8542As the camera zoomed in on a particular pair of jackdaws, the commentator mentioned that these birds mate for life.

Stefano turned to me, squeezed my hand and said (in Italian, of course):

“Hey, my little jackdaw…”

Well, what can I possibly add to that, except…I’m a very lucky jackdaw!

P.S. I photographed this pair of jackdaws when Stefano and I visited Pitigliano a couple of years ago.

Animated myeloma

This morning I came across a series of 2-3 minute animations created by Myeloma UK to explain various aspects of myeloma to patients and their families/caregivers. What an excellent idea!

I just finished watching the first animation, which shows how a plasma cell turns into a myeloma cell. Very well done, I thought, so I decided to post the link immediately, without even watching the others. I mean, if the other animations are as well done as the first one, they should be extremely useful in particular to folks who have just been diagnosed and are having a hard time (as I did, in the beginning) understanding what is happening…

Here is the link: http://goo.gl/vj8sxg

Now I’m going to watch the last one, in particular, and the one about bone disease…(thanks for the link, Delilah!). Good stuff!

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! :-)