Monthly Archives: December 2009

Reasons I haven’t been posting much…and my saw palmetto test results

Wow, that was FAST! I wasn’t supposed to receive my saw palmetto test results until after January 7th. But they arrived yesterday! Surprise, surprise! Thing is, I was so busy yesterday that I barely had enough time to glance at them. Until this morning. But first things first.

I haven’t been posting lately because we have been, yes, incredibly busy. In a very good way, I should add. Just to give you an example: on Sunday I was reunited with other four University of Florence friends (I should probably explain that in the early 1980s I attended university here for a couple of years before returning to the U.S.,where I finished college, worked for a while, then went on to grad school…), some of whom I hadn’t seen in more than 20 years. Boy, that really puts a perspective on, er, things…I mean, one of my university friends has a kid in COLLEGE…eeeek! Anyway, it was wonderful to see them all…lots of laughter, chatting, eating, singing…this get-together was such a huge success that we are already planning another one…

Stefano and I had and still have a million other things on our holiday “agenda.” I have been trying to read all of my messages but haven’t had the time to answer very many. I should also note that some unanswered ones may have gotten (or will get, at this rate!) buried, so if you really want to hear from me, please drop me another line. Sorry for the inconvenience, but if you could see how many unopened messages I have in Outlook, you would understand…sigh!

IMG_4254Oh, I almost forgot another good reason for not posting much in this period: Piccolo (see photo). Every time I begin doing research for a post, he jumps up on my desk and lies down on my left arm, right between me and the keyboard, purring like mad (Simon’s cat = Margaret’s cat!). Perhaps he is trying to let me know that I need to take a break from the blog now and again…such a smart boy! Well, he cannot be ignored…in part because he is so irresistible, in part because he weighs EIGHT kilos…imagine typing anything with that kind of weight on one of your arms!

Okay, but let’s get to my saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) test results. Oh wait…I have to confess that during the saw palmetto experiment, I sometimes reduced my curcumin intake slightly, from 8 to 6-7 grams/day. Only sometimes, mind you. Silly of me, but sometimes even I get tired of swallowing so many capsules…(it won’t happen again, though!). 

Compared to my October tests, my total IgG has gone up a bit, from 2970 to 3410 mg/dL. But I also have a bit of good news: my IgA increased from 6 to 15. For me, that’s like jumping off the top of Florence’s cathedral and landing on the Taj Mahal! My IgM also went up, but only slightly, from 8 to 10. Still, even though these two numbers continue to be amazingly low, I am happy to see them go up, NOT down…about time, I say!

Now, about my increased immunoglobulins. I didn’t keep a daily record (I was just too busy this fall…I am sure that it would help if I wrote down every single thing I swallow…but what a chore that would be…)…but at one point in October, when I started getting a few cold symptoms, I did take some Sambucol, the H1N1-inhibiting black elderberry extract. For the record: the cold never materialized. At any rate, could Sambucol have pushed up my immunoglobulin counts? Hmmm…

As for my other myeloma markers, I cannot find anything that really sticks out. Some numbers have gone up slightly, such as B2M, M-spike and total protein, but others have gone down a bit, such as CRP. And my hematocrit and hemoglobin have increased a smidgeon, too (both are still well within the normal range).

Let’s see, what else? Yes, a bit more good news: my parathyroid hormone result has finally settled within the normal range. And yes, my vitamin D levels have increased from 25,7 to 35,1. Excellent!

Well, all in all, I am satisfied…NOT ecstatic, since I was hoping for better results, of course…but it is true that my results always seem to go a bit up, then a bit down: the teeter-totter effect! And what matters to me is that I am still stable. Besides, saw palmetto left me with a great head of hair! 😉

I hope that everyone is having a lovely and healthful holiday! Oh my, it’s almost time for dinner. I can hear Stefano in the kitchen…I’d better go and see if he needs any help! Ciao a tutti!

Un Natale da leccarsi i baffi!

IMG_4155I wasn’t going to post anything today, but I just couldn’t resist sharing the adorable shot that I took of Peekaboo playing with a Xmas ribbon earlier this morning. All the cats helped us open our presents, but Peekaboo was certainly our most active, er…helper! 

Again, to all my blog readers, my best wishes for a very very VERY MERRY XMAS!!! May we all be as happy as a kitty with a ribbon! Ciao!

Pomegranate ointment can treat MRSA

Well, lookie here, quelle coincidence…just a few days ago I wrote a post about Manuka honey and its amazing infection-fighting properties (my cut is completely healed, by the way!)…and today I read a Science Daily article on the same topic. Except this time it’s pomegranates. Have a look: http://tinyurl.com/yj8mxbd 

According to Prof. Naughton, the head researcher in this particular study, “The idea of using a foodstuff is unusual and means that the body should be able to cope more easily with its application; patients are less likely to experience any major side-effects.”

Hear, hear…!

P.S. Just for fun, check out Fanatic Cook’s post on an octopus carrying a coconut shell around the sea floor…watch the video…I have never seen anything like it! Weird: http://tinyurl.com/ylseh6j

Infection-fighting goo…

It’s hard to explain what happened without actually showing you a photo of my finger (which I don’t have anyway, since, at the time, I wasn’t thinking of documenting this, er, event!), but I will do my best: in winter, particularly when it gets really really cold, what I can only describe as small slits form sometimes between the fingernail and the skin on the top of my fingers. And these tiny cuts tend to get infected if I ignore them. Aggravating!

As usual, I completely ignored the tiny slit that formed on my right index finger about two weeks (?) ago…didn’t disinfect it, didn’t put a bandage on it, blablabla. And yes, to make a long story short, more or less a week ago it got infected. It happened by degrees so I didn’t notice until the top of my finger was really red and throbbing. At that point, feeling extremely stupid, I disinfected it (Italian home remedies, such as dipping your finger in warm water and salt, are usually effective) and covered it with an antibiotic ointment, which is also usually effective. But after a few days it still hurt like mad. The pain didn’t stop me from my everyday activities, including typing, but whenever my bandaged finger hit the keyboard or any kind of surface, OUCHHH! Uffa.

On Thursday I went to see my family doctor, mainly to give him a few Xmas gifties…while I was there, I took the bandage off my finger and asked him to have a look. He stated the obvious “well, you have a nicely infected finger, there. Do this, do that, but if nothing works, and it still hurts tomorrow, you should begin taking an antibiotic.” He wrote me a prescription. (Oh, incidentally, my doctor’s “do this, do thats” referred to the home remedies that I had already tried, see above, and that hadn’t worked.) Well, you can’t imagine how annoyed I was at myself…I hate going on antibiotics (but of course I will if I must!), especially for something so minor.

As soon as I got home, though, a thought popped into my head. Remember my post on Manuka honey =September 6 2009)?

Ah wait, before I continue, I solemnly swear (and I will swear on anything you want, even my cats!) that I am not being paid even half a cent by a Manuka honey manufacturer or anyone else, for that matter. I say this because, had this happened to someone else, I myself would have a hard time believing it…!

In a nutshell, I remembered that, among other things, Manuka honey is used to heal wounds. And I also remembered a Science Daily article that I read back in September (see below). So I figured, hey, before taking an antibiotic, why don’t I try some Manuka? As you know, I am always (well, almost always!) ready to experiment with something non-toxic as long as it has solid scientific backing

So before going to bed on Thursday night I smeared a bit of raw Manuka honey (15+) on the top of my finger and bandaged it. The following morning my finger was not as red (Stefano is my witness) and didn’t hurt as much. And it also didn’t hurt as much to type. Even I was surprised. Needless to say, I didn’t go fill my antibiotic prescription…

I have applied Manuka honey five times since Thursday evening (when I am at home, of course, I take off the bandage and wipe off the honey so my slit can get some air…). This morning I am totally pain-free. The cut is healing, and my finger no longer throbs or looks red and puffy. But mainly, as I said, the pain is gone. I can type…no pain…no wincing…yaaaay.

This September 10th Science Daily article, http://tinyurl.com/y8wba6e, reports on a study showing that Manuka honey inhibits MRSA (= Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus), which is a HUGE problem now in hospitals. It particularly affects people with weakened immune systems (aha!) and older folks. You can find a million websites with loads of info on MRSA…I randomly chose WebMD: http://tinyurl.com/yofavx

Now, instead of administering different types of antibiotics to combat MRSA and other infections (incidentally, the above link tells us that There is also emerging antibiotic resistance being seen with some of these medications as well, so the battle between resistant bacteria strains and humans will probably rage on forever…), wouldn’t it be absolutely WONDERFUL if hospitals began to treat MRSA-infected patients with Manuka honey? The Manuka remedy is cheap, easy, non-toxic…and not as sticky as you would think! By the way, I would be very curious to know if anyone else out there has tried this infection-fighting goo, too! Thanks.

Well, it’s time for me to go start washing the veggies that we bought yesterday at a farmer’s market for an anti-myeloma soup (yep, with turmeric, rosemary and ginger, too). And now, yippee, I don’t have to be scared of any more bacteria getting into my cut. Fabulous…

P.S. By the way, I took the current blog banner photo yesterday from Piazzale Michelangelo, which overlooks Florence. What a sight…Florence covered in snow. Gorgeous beyond words…

CRAB symptoms and a blog reader story…

If you had a cavity, would you let your dentist pull out all your teeth? Nope, didn’t think so. Well, today I am going to tell an incredible (from my viewpoint) story, which might have had a different development, had I perhaps not intervened…sometimes I just cannot remain silent, even though I do try NOT to give any advice to my blog readers, I really do…but this was too much…

An upset and understandably very scared MGUS blog reader wrote to me on Monday night (I read the message on Tuesday morning before leaving for work) about his most recent haematologist appointment. For obvious reasons (of privacy), I cannot and will not provide too many details, including revealing my blog reader’s country (not Italy, that’s all I will say)…

Based on what he told me, it seems clear that my blog reader doesn’t have any CRAB symptoms. His protein and calcium levels are low, and he reports “no significant organ damage.” Ah, wait, let me make a slight amendment: he doesn’t have any “CRA” symptoms. As for the “B” in CRAB, the only test result that wasn’t ready on Monday was the skeletal survey, which should arrive within a few days, though. So we don’t know about the “B” yet.

He did receive some bad news, though. His bone marrow biopsy, or BMB, revealed 10% clonal plasma cells. And here is the shocker (again, from my point of view): his haematologist told him that he has now reached the boundary between MGUS and MM. If his BMB had been 11%, she said, he would have had to have started chemo immediately.

When I finished reading my blog reader’s e-mail, my first thought was that doctors should really undergo some serious sensitivity training courses. This particular haematologist instead must have attended the course titled “scare your patient out of his/her wits for no good reason.” I mean, here you have no idea if he has any bone lesions AND his bone marrow biopsy is less than 11% bad cells AND the rest of his tests are fine…yet you tell him that he might have to start chemotherapy? Where’s your common sense, for Pete’s sake? Besides, the implications of what she told him are absurd: if you have 10% cancer cells in your bone marrow, sit back and relax, you are fine. But if that number is 11%, then you have been plunged into the middle of a danger zone and have to undergo immediate treatment. A ONE PERCENT change in only ONE myeloma marker? Does that make any sense at all?

No, it doesn’t. And I have proof.

This haematologist must not be familiar with the 2002 report of the International Myeloma Working Group, composed of illustrious myeloma experts from all over the world. (see the list on page 756: http://tinyurl.com/yc5ucmw.) My blog reader’s story should remind us to have a copy of this report at our fingertips. Always. Okay, let’s have a quick look…

  • The most important characteristics of MGUS: M-protein < 30 grams/liter; < 10% bone marrow clonal plasma cells and no end organ damage (including bone lesions).
  • SMM, or smoldering myeloma: M-protein > or equal to 30 g/l; > or equal to 10% bone marrow clonal plasma cells and no end organ damage (ditto).
  • As for active MM: high calcium and creatinine levels (the C and R in CRAB), anemia (the A in CRAB), bone lesions (the B in CRAB), in addition to other things, such as symptomatic hyperviscosity and recurrent bacterial infections. Or plasmacytomas. See Tables II and V in the report for more details.

Now, concerning Table V, you will notice that there are no numbers for the amount of M-protein in the blood or urine. The authors explain that Approximately 40% of patients with symptomatic multiple myeloma have an M-protein less than 30 g/l. However, 97% of patients with multiple myeloma will have an M-protein in the serum or in the urine. No minimal level of clonal bone marrow plasma cells was designated because 5% of patients with symptomatic myeloma have fewer than 10% plasma cells in the bone marrow. The most critical criterion for symptomatic or treatable disease is the evidence of organ or tissue impairment (end organ damage) manifested by anaemia, hypercalcaemia, lytic bone lesions, renal insufficiency, hyperviscosity, amyloidosis or recurrent infections.

So what is important for symptomatic myeloma are CRAB symptoms

This excerpt is important: Definitions of multiple myeloma and criteria for treatment adopted by study groups in various countries have differed. Agreement to adopt a uniform approach would be advantageous in collating data internationally and carrying out treatment overviews and meta-analyses. An agreed-upon definition of symptomatic multiple myeloma requiring treatment would also remove the need for the use of older staging systems. (For more, see page 754.)

Even so, though, let’s never forget or let our doctors forget (!) that we, patients, are INDIVIDUALS, not numbers or statistics.

I told my blog reader to ask for at least one other medical opinion, if not two. I gave him the names of a few of the very kind and knowledgeable multiple myeloma experts that I contacted in 2005 (and whose names are on the Int Myeloma Working Group report, incidentally), when my progression toward active myeloma seemed inevitable and I began to get scared. Contacting those specialists was one of the best things I have ever done…

I have more things to say on this topic, based on a study that I am reading right now, but this post is long enough, I will stop here for today…

Turmeric holiday cookies, blood tests, rashes, pizza dough and card games…

After getting home from work yesterday, I began my annual Xmas cookie baking marathon. I tried a new recipe that yielded a batch of incredibly delicious raisin oatmeal spice cookies. The recipe calls for different spices–ginger, cumin, cloves, cinnamon, cayenne pepper and I forget what else. Turmeric is not listed, but of course I added at least a teaspoon and a half of organic turmeric to the cookie dough. And, now that I have tested these cookies on Stefano and some of my dearest friends who gobbled them down as though they were set on winning a substantial monetary prize at a “stuff-your-face-with-sweets” tournament!, I can safely say that turmeric doesn’t hurt the taste of spice-based cookies at all; on the contrary, it gives them a lovely “goldish” glow. Crunchy on the outside, moist on the inside and a bit spicy (in a GOOD way, mind you)…this turned out to be one of my best Xmas cookie recipes ever…

Well, while I was in the middle of baking batches of cookies, doing laundry, preparing pizza dough and cleaning the kitchen, I got a call from my sister telling me that Dad had developed a horrendous rash on the back of his knee. “Whaaat???!!!,” I screeched. She said that he had been seen by his family doctor who wasn’t sure if the rash had been triggered by a tick bite or a brown recluse spider bite or…something else. As you can imagine, I was very alarmed. Still am…

Dad was tested for a bunch of things, but we won’t have the results for a few (?) days at least. Until then, he is on antibiotics. I must say, it’s in moments like these that I really hate being so far away from my parents…from my family in general (my sister and niece live in Arizona). I wish I could just drop in on them now and again (beam me up, Scotty!)…I wish we could all spend the holidays together…I wish…

At any rate, later on I spoke with my parents, who reassured me that the rash is indeed scary-looking but already seems to be fading. So I am not making any plane reservations…yet. But I confess that I did look at flights to Boston…

I spent the evening at a friend’s house, a get-together that had been planned last week. There were eight of us, all enthusiastic card players. We paired off and played cards and laughed and horsed around and ate cookies until after midnight. Ah, who won, you ask? Well, my partner and I, of course! (No, not Stefano…he doesn’t like to play cards, especially with a bunch of rowdy women…can’t really blame him, eh?)

This morning I went to the Misericordia of Badia a Ripoli (where I can make an appointment to have my blood drawn at a specific time, which is fabbbulous: I was in and out in 10 minutes!). I will have my blood test results by mid January…these will be my saw palmetto (Serenoa repens) results.

Now I have to figure out what my next experiment will be. Reishi? Guggulsterone? Boswellia? Something else? Who would have thought, just a couple of years ago, that I would have so many choices?

Who would have thought?

Xmas tree cats

We have two (fake…but very good quality fake!) Xmas trees. In the past few years we have used only the smaller one, which fits nicely on one of our dining room cabinets. The second one is a tall and very handsome tree…more than two meters high. But we haven’t used it since Priscilla was a baby (she is four and a half years old now).

IMG_3925Of course, once Peekaboo joined our family, we knew that we had to give up any thought of having a tall tree…Peekaboo is the cutest little cat in the entire universe (anyone who is lucky enough to meet her agrees that there is something truly compelling about her…irresistible little creature), but her nickname is Ms. Mischief. Just have a look at her roguish eye, which should be blue!, and flattened ears in this photo…and you will understand why we chose to wait until she was a bit older before tempting her with the tall tree.

Well, she is more than two years old now, so this year we resolved that we could safely put up our taller Xmas tree. We did so by degrees, in order to avoid certain events from possibly occurring…such as Peekaboo trying to climb to the top of the tree, toppling it, hurting herself or the others in the process, chewing on the decorations and having to be rushed to the vet and so on. On Saturday evening we brought the tree down from the attic and assembled it in the living room. The cats watched us but didn’t participate in any way. As soon as we had finished, we sat down to see what they IMG_3880would do. I had my camera ready, of course!

Well, truth be told, very little happened. All they did was take turns going under the tree and sniffing it. Oh, at one very exciting point (yawn…), Priscilla decided that the tree was dusty and needed to be cleaned up a bit, so she began licking it passionately (she is our psychotic OCD miniature tiger…she likes to lick plastic and metal and so on…and e.g. goes bonkers over arugula, the bitterer the better…). I finally discouraged her from licking the fake branches, telling her that it wasn’t arugula…And, after seeing this photo, I have proclaimed her to be the longest-tongued kitty in thIMG_3915e world…

Incredibly, my cats showed very little interest in the bare tree. Okay, I thought, perhaps they will perk up a bit when they catch a glimpse of the ornaments tomorrow morning…

As planned, on Sunday morning we brought down our big box of mostly unbreakable Xmas tree ornaments and began decorating the tree. We thought that this would finally spur the kitties into action. Once again, they gathered around to watch (yawn stretch ho hum yawn) but kept their distance. Once we had finished, they did sniff a few ornaments but otherwise seemed extremely bored and eventually ambled off to take their usual mid morning nap. I confess to having felt a bit disappointed…!!! Okay, very disappointed.IMG_3947

And then I heard it…the noise I had been hoping to hear: whack whack whack! I went around the tree and found Peekaboo precariously perched on our china cabinet’s narrow ledge, happily and…doggedly batting away at all the ornaments within her reach. Finally, something to photograph…but gone are my dreams of becoming popular and famous on Facebook or YouTube…sigh…

IMG_3943Oh well…can’t have everything…and, after all, the fact that our tree is still standing and that all the ornaments are still hanging on it is a GOOD thing…(incidentally, we don’t put tinsel on our Xmas tree…very dangerous for cats, especially our OCD, eat-anything-toxic cat! Beware of tinsel!)

P.S. An important notice for all Freelite folks: please go read Aramis’ new, important comment on my December 11th post…especially if your numbers are high but you don’t have any other really wacky myeloma markers. I think you will find this comment most reassuring…