Sherlock’s test results

I just got off the phone with Sherlock. Her April test results turned out a bit better than mine, which is super duper. For instance her M-spike went from 2.5 down to 2.37. Ok, that’s not a huge decrease, but almost all of her other values did well, too. We compared our results over the phone and concluded that the EGCG did a good job. For both of us.

An example: her total protein, which was lower than mine, is now within normal range; mine is just slightly above normal. Excellent!

A curious thing that made us laugh: even though we took the exact same substances (even the same brands!) at the same dosage/time of day, some of my values went up while hers went down (or vice versa). For instance, her white blood cells dropped below the normal range whereas mine climbed back up into the normal range. Her haemoglobin and B2M went up a bit, mine went down (I should point out that all of these values are within the normal range). Her LDH went down a bit, mine went up a bit (still way within the range, though). Etc. Goes to show that we are different!

Anyway, in conclusion, we feel very positive about our EGCG experiment.

We are both still strolling along the stability path.

I am in a terrific hurry this afternoon, but I did want to share Sherlock’s happiness with all of you! Bravissima! Alla prossima!

April blood test results

Just got the results of my most recent blood and urine tests (taken on April 23). These refer to the experiment with EGCG (in addition to the usual dose of curcumin and, in my case, flaxseed oil) that Sherlock and I conducted for almost two months.
Some things went up a bit, some things went down a bit. But let’s proceed in the usual order. If a value shows little or no change, I won’t bother reporting it.
Good stuff. My white blood cells are back within the normal range, phew. On Biocurcumax they had gone way down, below the minimum. My platelets have also gone up, from 254 to 281.
Serum calcium is still within the normal range but dropped to 8.8 from 9.4 (max is 10.7 mg/dL), which is good.
My inherited high cholesterol is way down. It’s not normal yet but it has gone down 10 % for the first time since last November. Yeah!
Total protein is down from 9.3 to 8.7. Still a bit on the high side (slightly above normal, that is), but going in the right direction.
Uric acid is down from 5.3 to 4.6.
Total IgG is down from 35.3 to 34.
M-spike has varied only a teensy weensy bit, from 2.45 to 2.44. But at least it didn’t INCREASE.
Bence Jones protein: negative.
Beta-2 Microglobulin went down from 2.0 to 1.8.
Bad stuff. My ferritin (iron stores) is back down to 7 from 13; the minimum is 10. Oh, bother. And my serum iron has gone from 57 to 43 (minimum is 60 ng/mL). Dear, dear. At this point, I may have to take an iron supplement.  I will talk this over with my doctor.
Albumin went down, from 49 to below the normal range (minimum is 48%). It is now 45.6. But I see that it has been lower in the past, well, on one occasion, so I guess that doesn’t worry me…too much. Hmmm.
Gamma globulin went up, from 27.9 to 31. The top end of the normal range is 22.8 %. It’s never been this high. Uffa.
The albumin/globulin ratio has dropped to 0.84 from 0.96 (minimum is 0.99).
Monoclonal component went up from 26.4 to 28.1. Drat. Not sure what this means, since the M-spike remained stable. Another question for my doctor.

I admit, I would have preferred more of a drop in the M-spike in particular. In fact, I would have liked all of my immunoglobulins to have returned to normal.  But what’s the point of wishing for the impossible? After all, upon examining the good and bad list, there are more positive than negative items. I am still stable, and things seem to be moving (slowly) in the right direction…

Dunstanburgh Castle

Today I showed some photos of our recent holiday in Northumberland to my students. They really enjoyed the photos of the puffins, of course, but they also loved the shots I took of one of my favourite castles (oh why beat around the bush? This is my most favourite castle ever!): Dunstanburgh. Its main feature is the massive twin-towered gatehouse visible from afar.

You reach Dunstanburgh Castle by following an easy trail by the sea, about a mile and a half walk from the car park located right outside the village of Craster.

What can I say about that walk? Simply stunning, even in the chilly rain, wind and mud (and sheep poo, hehe). And as you approach the castle located on a vast promontory overlooking the sea…well, the views of the coast, of the castle and of nearby fields are magical.

Even though it is now a ruin, Dunstanburgh, according to Wikipedia, was and is the largest castle in Northumberland, occupying 4.5 hectares. It’s protected on two sides by sheer cliffs and the sea, as you can sort of see in the photo on the right that I took from one of its towers (the only one that you can still climb) and in the photo below.

The castle was built in the 14th century for the Earl of Lancaster but apparently did not play a significant part in the border warfare against Scotland. It was severely damaged during the War of the Roses in the 15th century and subsequently fell into ruin. Today it is owned by the National Trust and managed by English Heritage.

Well worth a visit. You will not be disappointed, believe me.

After visiting most of the castles in Northumberland, Stefano and I decided that we didn’t care much for the privately-owned, restored castles, even though from a distance Bamburgh Castle, also located on the coast of Northumberland, is quite a sight.

No, we liked castle ruins best of all: Edlingham and Etal, just to mention a couple.

Dunstanburgh, though, has no rivals.

More on zerumbone

Before we left on our Northumberland holiday, a laughing friend (thanks!) sent me a 2005 MD Anderson study on zerumbone published in “Oncogene” and co-authored by Prof. Aggarwal (is there a natural substance that this remarkable man has NOT tested???). The abstract can be viewed here:
I had already read elsewhere that zerumbone suppresses the activation of constitutive NF-kappaB ("constitutive" essentially means “active all the time,” which is a BAD thing, see my page on Nuclear Factor-kappaB for details), thus preventing a lot of nasty things from happening. The abstract tells us that it also suppresses, just to give a few better known (to me, anyway) examples, COX-2, Bcl-2 and the Epstein-Barr virus, AND it potentiates the killing effect of chemotherapy on cancer cells. So far, so good.
The full study begins with Hippocrates’ famous “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” The study then provides a quick account of zerumbone that was first isolated in 1956 from the essential oil of rhizomes of a wild ginger, Zingiber zerumbet Smith, which is widespread in Southeast Asia.
Only about 40 years later, beginning in the 1990s, did it get the attention it deserved, though, as the following excerpts prove: zerumbone has been found to suppress the proliferation of colon cancer and breast cancer, with minimal effects on normal cells. Zerumbone has also been shown to suppress inflammation, suppress the initiation and promotion of skin tumors in mice, etc. Boy, this could easily turn into a sort of cancer “laundry list”! Ok, let me read on and do my best to avoid any mentions of laundry (of which I have been doing tons since we got home from our wonderful holiday…!).
Let’s see. On the one hand, zerumbone is a very potent inhibitor of TNF-induced NF-kB activation. TNF stands for tumour necrosis factor, by the way (hmmm, this is a rather complicated topic that I may address at some point, but for now let it suffice that in this particular scenario, that is, by activating NF-kB, TNF behaves badly, a bit like Mr. Hyde). Anyway, this plant extract suppresses TNF-induced invasion activity, which means it can block tumour metastasis…in vitro at least. I also found it interesting that cells pretreated with zerumbone showed no activation of NF-kB, even after 60 min of TNF stimulation. No activation of NF-kappaB. Extraordinary, no?
On the other hand, zerumbone increased the killing effect of TNF (this time, in its Dr. Jekyll role) on cancer cells by blocking NF-kB. See, I told you it was complicated! Okay, forget this entire part…for now, at least! I will jump to the Discussion section of the study.
The purpose of the study was to see if the antiinflammatory and antiproliferative effects of zerumbone were mediated through modulation of NF-kB and NF-kB regulated gene products involved in inflammation, proliferation, and apoptosis. The researchers found that zerumbone suppressed NF-kB activation induced by various carcinogens and inflammatory agents irrespective of cell type. Super duper.
There are heaps of details in this study, and I confess that I avoided listing them here as much as possible since they were of as much interest to me as a report on the newest most fashionable hair style/colour (yawn!), and I very much doubt they would have grabbed the attention of more than a few of you. However, I would be glad to forward the full study to those of you who enjoy reading about hetarodimers, IkappaBalpha phosphorylation (also suppressed by zerumbone, by the way) and annexing V staining…
Well, okay, here are a few details for the detail-hungry readers: in addition to inhibiting NF-kB (etc.), zerumbone downregulated NF-kB dependent gene products involved in cell proliferation (e.g. cyclin D1 and c-Myc), in antiapoptosis (e.g. survivin, IAP1, IAP2, XIAP, Bcl-2, Bcl-xL, Bfl-1/A1, and FLIP), and in invasion (MMP-9, COX-2, and ICAM-1). Now, aren’t you GLAD I spared you most of the details? 
I was interested to see that zerumbone also inhibits MMP-9 (so does thalidomide, by the way, if I am not mistaken), or matrix metallopeptidase 9. I have written on previous occasions about this human enzyme that of course is involved, and not at all in a positive way!, in myeloma (see for instance: and angiogenesis.
The study concludes: On the basis of our findings, we conclude that zerumbone is a potent inhibitor of NF-kB and NF-kB-regulated gene products and that this inhibition may explain its antiproliferative and antiinflammatory effects.
Here we have another substance that shows tremendous potential in the lab…but, okay, it’s a bit early to get overly excited, since zerumbone is not easy to obtain, and besides, it also would appear to cost an arm and a leg (I received an actual quote from a lab…mamma mia, quanto costa!!!). Drat!
So, given these obstacles, you may rightly ask me: what’s the point of researching and writing about any of these substances that have strong anticancer effects in vitro but are not being tested outside a lab setting?
Well, my main purpose is to get the word out via my blog.

You see, I believe that we can do something to change the current situation, in which promising anticancer plant extracts are essentially being ignored (for obvious reasons, just think of “Sicko”…).

One small and easy thing that we can all do is take the studies about zerumbone (or a substance of your choice, just take your pick among my Pages, e.g.) to our doctors and try to spark their curiosity.

Here, I hope, is an encouraging example. Out of curiosity this morning I did a search for “curcumin and cancer" on PubMed, where I found a total of 806 studies. Now, what follows may not be very scientific, but it does show how the interest in curcumin has been rising throughout the years.

In 2001 there were 41 studies on curcumin and cancer. Last year there were 129. And right now, that is, just a few months into 2008, there are already 48 studies. Astonishing, no?

The irrepressible optimist in me is convinced that we (cancer patients and/or curcumin-takers in general) have a lot to do with this change.

So if we can get just one doctor interested in zerumbone or cyclopamine or DMAPT or another plant extract…even just one doctor…

Why English Teachers Retire Early

One of my correspondents sent me this list of very amusing analogies (etc.) allegedly taken from actual U.S. high school student essays. Many gave me a good giggle, some even more than a giggle…! Enjoy! 
1. Her face was a perfect oval, like a circle that had its 2 sides gently compressed by a Thigh Master.
2. His thoughts tumbled in his head, making and breaking alliance, like underpants in a dryer without Cling Free.
3. He spoke with the wisdom that can only come from experience, like a guy who went blind because he looked at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it and now goes around the country speaking at high schools about the dangers of looking at a solar eclipse without one of those boxes with a pinhole in it.
4. She grew on him like she was a colony of E. Coli, & he was room-temperature Canadian beef.
5. She had a deep, throaty, genuine laugh, like that sound a dog makes just before it throws up.
6. Her vocabulary was as bad as, like, whatever.
7. He was as tall as a six-foot, three-inch tree.
8. The revelation that his marriage of 30 years had disintegrated because of his wife’s infidelity came as a rude shock, like a surcharge at a formerly surcharge-free ATM machine.
9. The little boat gently drifted across the pond exactly the way a bowling ball wouldn’t.
10. McBride fell 12 stories, hitting the pavement like a Hefty bag filled with vegetable soup.
11. From the attic came an unearthly howl. The whole scene had an eerie, surreal quality, like when you’re on vacation in another city and Jeopardy comes on at 7:00 p.m. Instead of 7:30.
12. Her hair glistened in the rain like a nose hair after a sneeze.
13. The hailstones leaped from the pavement, just like maggots when you fry them in hot grease.
14. Long separated by cruel fate, the star-crossed lovers raced across the grassy field toward each other like two freight trains, one having left Cleveland at 6:36 p.m. Traveling at 55 mph, the other from Topeka at 4:19 p.m. At a speed of 35 mph.
15. They lived in a typical suburban neighborhood with picket fences that resembled Nancy Kerrigan’s teeth.
16. John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.   
17. He fell for her like his heart was a mob informant & she was the East River.
18. Even in his last years, Granddad had a mind like a steel trap, only one that had been left out so long, it had rusted shut.
19. Shots rang out, as shots are wont to do.
20. The plan was simple, like my brother-in-law Phil. But unlike Phil, this plan just might work.
21. The young fighter had a hungry look, the kind you get from not eating for a while.
22. He was as lame as a duck. Not the metaphorical lame duck, either, but a real duck that was actually lame, maybe from stepping on a land mine or something.
23. The ballerina rose gracefully en Pointe and extended one slender leg behind her, like a dog at a fire hydrant.
24. It was an American tradition, like fathers chasing kids around with power tools.
25. He was deeply in love. When she spoke, he thought he heard bells, as if she were a garbage truck backing up.

Myeloma break

In the past few days, I have started wondering why I haven’t been feeling more eager to resume my almost daily routine of research into alternative treatments for myeloma, etc.
It didn’t take long to find an answer.
While we were in Northumberland, you see, I sort of turned into a “normal” person, someone who did not have a lethal form of cancer…even though my myeloma is inactive right now (as I write these words, I am knocking on wood and also, as Italians do, touching iron!). As far as I know…
For ten days I forgot that anything was wrong with me. I didn’t think about it even when I swallowed my curcumin. That gesture became part of the nightly routine: watch a BBC program, swallow my pills, read a book, go to bed.
I woke up every morning raring to go, regardless of the weather. We were well equipped for rainy, windy and cold weather, so nothing stopped us from setting off on our daily hikes. The day we went over the border into Scotland to visit the St. Abb’s Head National Nature Reserve (see photo; we were on top of a cliff there), we walked for about three hours up and down and across steep muddy hills and seaside cliffs. This was after we had been on another long hike earlier that day. I never thought I would have the energy to do anything like that.
But by then I had become an enthusiastic and (almost!) indefatigable walker.
Now, I don’t mean to imply that I am going to start trekking around the world and abandon my research or my blog….oh no, no, no, not at all. Research is a big part of my life now. And so is my blog and so are all of you.

I just need to ease back into my regular routine slowly.

A part of me is still holding on to that wonderful feeling of being “normal.”

Of not having cancer.

Buon anniversariooooo!

It’s our 9th wedding anniversary today.

In honour of this momentous occasion: a photo of two seals that we encountered on our way to Inner Farne Island. Ah yes, I forgot to mention that we also saw quite a large group of seals, some swimming about in the water, some lying all huddled together on a small island, enjoying the sun. A few swam quite close to the boat to have a better look at us…curious creatures, just like Stefano and me! 

Thanks to an MMA list member, I found out that a cyclopamine derivative called IPI-926 is in the preclinical trial stage. You can read more about it here: And if you don’t remember what cyclopamine is, have a look at my Pages on the right-hand side of your screen: I have a page on cyclopamine. The pharmaceutical company that produces IPI-926 hopes to begin clinical trials in the second half of 2008. Exciting times lie ahead!

Un bacione, moro, TVTB

Puffin mania

Today I’m going to post a few of our puffin photos. These birds are extraordinary creatures, rather clumsy walkers, too (see the rather out-of-focus but amusing photo on the left), very entertaining to watch.

We spent more than two hours on Inner Farne Island, off the coast of Northumberland (Seahouses), where we saw a huge number of puffins and also the burrows that they had dug using their beaks and feet, like the one on the right.

Puffin burrows are about as long as a human arm, I learned from a BBC morning program (mentioned in a blog comment by Paul) showing a Farne Island warden shoving his arm down a burrow and bringing up a rather ruffled puffin. Not a pleasant or easy thing to do, he remarked, because puffins aren’t as harmless as they look but will bite and scratch and struggle like mad. Well, I think I’d do much the same if I were being grabbed suddenly from above!

By the way, puffins are hygienically-minded creatures: they have a separate toilet area for their chicks inside the burrow. How about that? Well, okay, there is a good reason for the separate powder room: if the chick got itself all covered in…well, in you-know-what!…it might damage the waterproofing properties of its feathers. Since puffins spend most of their time out on the Atlantic ocean, you can see that that would be a huge problem!

I should mention that there are three puffin species. The one depicted in this post is the Atlantic puffin. Atlantic puffins aren’t very large, about 30-34 cm long and 18 cm high. They weigh about 500 grams, and their wingspan measures about 50-60 cm. That means that when they fly you can’t see their wings at all, they are flapping so fast.

It is impossible to describe adequately how peculiar this looks. Puffins in flight look like zooming black and white footballs with some orange-coloured chewing gum stuck on one end. I read that these amazing sea birds flap their wings up to 400 beats per minute. Their wings are powerful but made more for swimming than flying.

And they go sooo fast! Taking a photo of a flying puffin is like trying to take a photo of a flying bullet. I have dozens of photos of tiny blurry dots in the sky (or just of the empty sky, sigh). Stefano, whose camera is much more sophisticated than mine, was able to take quite a few good ones, though, like the one on the right. Of course, you can actually see the wings in a still photo, but I assure you that, when seen live, the wings are a total blur.

Anyway, at one point I simply gave up trying to take THE perfect photo, turned off my camera and stood in the middle of the small island watching puffins whiz right past me, above my head and all around me. If I had reached out, I would have been able to touch a few of them, they were that close. It was an amazing experience.

We saw tons of puffins out on the water, diving under the surface (I read that they can go as deep as 70 metres, or 200 feet), floating about or flying low above the water or landing on the water (on their stomachs, from what I could tell). What a sight. We took photos, but most of them came out rather blurry (drat!). This one, though, shows how puffins are able to take off from the water surface. They start moving their little legs faster and faster while madly flapping their wings, looking a bit like comical cartoon characters, until they are finally able to lift their rather plump little bodies up into the air.

Well, we were very lucky to be here on such a glorious day. The owner of the boat who took us to the island told us that there were currently 13,000 puffin pairs there. According to the BBC program I saw, a total of 60,000 pairs are expected to nest on these islands this year. I would like to mention that we also saw hundreds of other sea birds. I read that the Farne Islands host 182 other bird species, from razorbills to shags (see my photo of a nesting shag) and whatnot. Quite a sight. Oh, and the noise!, mamma mia!, mainly from the squacking and screeching sea gulls (I guess). Almost deafening.

You can read more about the Farne Island puffins in this May 2, 2008 Times article:

As you can see, I am still in my holiday mode! 

Lambs can fly…

…but only in magical Northumberland. 

At the time Stefano took the photo of these two flying lambs, I was climbing to the top of a muddy and sheep poop-ridden hill to take a photo of a stone-built bastle house (from the French bastille), a sort of 16th-17th century fortified farmhouse. This particular bastle was Black Middens Bastle House (see: I won’t post the photo I took, since the one on the website is a much better one.

Anyway, Stefano had stayed behind in the car park and was watching a few lambs at play in a nearby field. When they began jumping high up in the air, he grabbed his camera and took a few photos. This was his lucky shot!

And this, by the way, is lambing season in Northumberland. I have never ever seen so many lambs (or sheep) in my entire life! Thousands. I kid you not. Or rather, I lamb you not!  I think I may have more photos of lambs and sheep than of puffins, if possible. Adorable creatures.

These (above, left) are two lambs that we encountered on our climb toward Housesteads, a Roman fort located halfway along Hadrian’s Wall, whose construction began in 122 AD or thereabouts. Almost 74 miles long, the wall is a stone and turf fortification built by the Roman Empire across the width of modern-day England (source: Wikipedia). Even though it is a ruin, the wall is still very impressive and offers spectacular views of the surrounding countryside. Such as the one on the right.

I will need a few more days (weeks? months? years?) to go through all the messages I received in my absence (almost 400 e-mails, gasp!, in spite of the fact that I unsubscribed from one of the myeloma patient lists…) and settle back into our regular routine. But for now, in spite of having gone back to work today, I am still in blissfully happy holiday mode…

Back in the nest

Well, we’re hooooooome…!

What can I say in two words about this holiday in Northumberland…hmmm: ABSOLUTELY FABULOUS. I am too tired to write any more right now, and I have to get ready for work tomorrow, but I will certainly have more than a few photos like this one (a puffin on Inner Farne Island; photo taken by yours truly!!!) to post and a few stories to tell in the days to come.

Cheers, everyone!!!