Monthly Archives: September 2010

A new discovery…

A new species has been born…right in my own home! I am verrrrrrrry excited, as you can imagine.

I have temporarily named the new species as follows: “Turtlecat”…although I thought that “Cardboard Cat” or “Box Turtlecat” might also fit the bill.

As you can see from the photos, the turtlecat has already begun proliferating…I found not one but TWO of these amazing-looking creatures on my living room floor this morning.

Hmmm…what else can I tell you about my discovery? Well, I noticed that these new creatures don’t move around very much…no, they seem to be happy to stay in one place. But they are quite alert, and their eyes, as you can see, have an almost alien-like reflection.

Ah, a word of warning: when they get tired of being photographed, they glare fiercely at you and lash their tails back and forth in a most menacing manner…

Otherwise, they seem to be very peaceful critters…Oh, I should mention that they did abandon their shells hastily when it was time for lunch… :-)

P.S. The response to my previous post has been almost overwhelming. I would like to express my gratitude to everyone who wrote to me both publicly and privately and let you know that what I have so far encourages me to keep digging…Putting all of this information together might take a while, though, since I also have a “day job” (oh, and a “life,” too!)! Seriously, though, please don’t stop sending me any information you think might be useful/relevant to my research. I appreciate your help…thanks!

An appeal to my blog readers…

I returned to Florence less than a week ago but have been tremendously busy…recovering from jet lag…zzzz (=uff, it really hit me hard this time around…zzzzz)…going back to work…zzzzz…cooking…spending a long weekend morning with Stefano in the “Oasi di Focognano,” a WWF bird sanctuary here in Florence (see photos; don’t you just love the grey heron dancing the boogie oogie oogie? 😀 )…playing cards with my girlfriends…but also reading, doing research and making, or trying to make!, a few connections…

Those connections are the reason I am appealing to you today. I need your help!

Basically, I would be very grateful if you could tell me if, before being diagnosed with MGUS, SMM or MM, you came down with a viral infection of some sort. If so, do you remember what it was, and could you provide a few details, anything you think might be relevant? Just to give you a quick example, in my final year of grad school at the University of Toronto, I came down with Epstein Barr…oooh, a nasty critter, that one. Anyway, that occurred only a few years before my MGUS diagnosis…

If you don’t want to leave a comment here on the blog, please use the Contact form (over on the right) or send me a message via my private e-mail address or Facebook…

Your input is vital for the rather exciting bit of research I am doing right now, so I will be immensely grateful for any help. Needless to say, I will respect everyone’s privacy, just as I always have. Hmmm, I can’t think of anything else…except this: thank you so very much!

Okay, I need to get back to work now. Ciao a tutti! :-)

Back in Italy…with a list of flying complaints…

I wasn’t sure I would publish this…After re-reading it, it does seem a bit silly…more like something I might write for Facebook…

But I am too jetlagged to do any serious research or even write a funny piece…so here goes!

I arrived in Florence on Wednesday afternoon. The Boston-Zurich-Florence trip was, thankfully, uneventful…No customs problems in Zurich (on the contrary, my customs official couldn’t have been nicer)…No lost or damaged luggage…Everything went smoothly, except for a bit of turbulence over Nova Scotia, undoubtedly triggered by what was left of Hurricane Igor…

However, since complaints are sometimes a bit more fun to read than praise, I do have a short list of those, as follows…

1: there was almost no space at all between seat rows on this particular aircraft, so the flight was quite uncomfortable, especially for my long legs (I should note that I was in Economy class, though I guess that is obvious!). I wonder how anyone taller than I am can, er, stand it…? Long flights should really provide comfortable seats with plenty of legroom. It wouldn’t take much, really. I mean, this was ridiculous…I was so squished against the man sitting in front of me that my TV screen ended up being just a few inches from my nose, making it almost impossible to watch the movie (=that might actually have been a good thing…see point number three 😉 ).

2: dinner. The choice was between chicken and pasta. I chose pasta, since I am VERY MUCH opposed, for a variety of VERY good reasons!, to battery-farm-raised/tortured chickens. I don’t know how the chicken dish tasted, obviously, but I can assure you that my tortellini looked so revolting that I almost took a photo of ‘em. A tiny, useless amount of tomato sauce stared at me unappealingly from the bottom of the dish, which meant that the sauceless tortellini had completely dried out in the process of being reheated….Oh, and a few of the tortellini in the center of the dish were covered by a couple of withered strands of spinach. My dinner ended up being a roll with some cheese…

3: the movie selection. I confess that I watched “Sex and the City, Part II” on the flight to the U.S. (two weeks ago). Avoid that movie at all costs if, like me, you hated…no, let me correct that…if, like me, you loathed Part I, which, at the time I saw it (coincidentally, during a flight to the U.S., two years ago…), zoomed to the top of my “worst movie on the planet” list. I got through Part II only because the movie selection wasn’t very exciting…I should instead have read my book. Compared to Part I, Part II was even dumber…even more unbearably pointless, annoying and offensive on many levels. And it was just plain boring…For these reasons, it has replaced Part I as THE WORST movie ever made. Just my opinion, of course…

Still under 3. The movie that I watched a few nights ago, on my return flight, was titled “Letters to Juliet.” Another gem has been added to my “worst movie on the planet” list. Okay, it was not as bad as the above-mentioned disaster, thanks to a couple of interesting scenes, which I will get to in a moment… Let’s see. The basic idea was a good one…And yes, seeing fabulous Vanessa Redgrave and Franco Nero together was somewhat enjoyable. Oh, and of course (!) the snippets of scenery were incredibly fabulous: the lovely cities of Verona and Siena, and the rolling, cypress-covered hills of my Tuscany. But the best part of the movie was the brief, alas!, focus on a group of VERY talented Italian actresses, including Luisa Ranieri and Marina Massironi. For me, those were the most compelling scenes in the entire movie…

If only the plot had built on that promising beginning, that is, the intriguing letter-writing role played by the group of Italian women…if only it had expanded on the background and lives of those dedicated women…perhaps throwing in, for colour, a bit of wonderful traditional Italian cooking, barely mentioned in a couple of scenes that overly concentrated on the oh-so-very-annoying exclamations of delight uttered by the oh-so-very-annoying fiancé/chef…

If only the story had focused on those two aspects, I am convinced that “Letters to Juliet” would have turned into a spendid movie. But no, the plot took a wrong turn and ended up in a simply dreadful cul-de-sac…It was utterly unconvincing, completely stupid, totally predictable and unbelievably boring. Oh, and don’t get me started on the two main characters…that obnoxious young couple that ends up falling in love…Assurdo! Okay, I will stop here and go on to a more important topic… 

4: sick, germy people. Of course, it isn’t the airline’s fault if sick passengers board an airplane. Still, it would be nice for airlines to have a “mask” policy for visibly ill passengers. If I were ill, I wouldn’t mind wearing a mask, so why should anyone else? Case in point: a man sitting two rows behind me coughed (a deep, throaty cough) throughout the flight…almost seven hours without stopping. He should have been wearing a mask. I just hope he didn’t contaminate me and anyone else with a compromised immune system…eeek! But so far, so good…

Okay, enough complaining! Now for some positive stuff.

Getting home from the airport. As soon as I opened the front door, I was greeted by our five excited cats (they had all been taking their usual nap, of course, but I guess that somehow they knew that I had returned…). They aren’t letting me out of their eyesight now. If I go out on the terrace to hang out some laundry, they watch me from the door and scold me for having been out too long when I come back inside. So cute!  :-)   And Pinga, my one-year-old baby, has been sleeping on my shoulder for the past couple of nights…She is getting a bit too heavy for that, but I don’t mind.

But, as happy as the cats were to see me, it was the happiest man in Italy who hugged me at the airport…

Yes, it’s good to be home! :-)

What a small bowl of watercress can do…

My visit to the U.S. is about to end. Holy cats, how time flies! I will be back in Florence on Wednesday (afternoon). Stefano, who has confessed to feeling lonely and missing me a lot :-) , is picking me up at the airport, so we can spend the afternoon together.

The cats have missed me, too. Stefano told me that they have been a bit lethargic and don’t want to play at night, the way they usually do. Cute story: the other day I left a message on our answering machine, and when Stefano pressed the button to listen to it, an excited Pinga came running and began looking for me everywhere. Awww! Sweetie pie! And yesterday morning, while Stefano and I were chatting on the phone, he put the phone next to Pinga’s ear for a few moments, and I cooed to her…at the sound of my voice, Stefano reported that she began purring madly. Double awww!

But this cute stuff isn’t really the point of my post today. The point is that yesterday I read an interesting Science Daily article (http://tinyurl.com/237dlgw) about watercress…or rather, about an ingredient in watercress (and in broccoli and other Brassicaceae family members, by the way) called PEITC, which stands for phenethyl isothiocyanate…quite a mouthful, ain’t it?

This isn’t the first time we have discussed PEITC, an important anticancer substance, and I am sure it won’t be the last. It was, e.g., the focus of a post I wrote in July 2007…and, if you scroll down on the right-hand side of my blog, you will find a “Page” on broccoli, which, of course, discusses PEITC. Oh, here is a titbit: PEITC and curcumin apparently work well together (so don’t forget to add a bit of turmeric to your plate of steamed broccoli with garlic…).

But let’s get back to watercress. A recent study carried out by a University of Southampton team shows that PEITC can turn off a protein called HIF, or Hypoxia Inducible Factor, which is important in the development of breast cancer. As soon as I read the acronym HIF, I knew that I had already written about it in connection with myeloma. I don’t have the time right now to look up this information on my blog, but I did quickly check PubMed where I found a series of studies, including a July 2010 one (http://tinyurl.com/265c79l) confirming that HIF and VEGF are best buddies. That, by the way, is good news for cancer cells but very bad news for cancer patients! Hmmm, in case you were wondering, yes, curcumin inhibits HIF…

The actual experiment carried out by the University of Southampton team is interesting mainly because it goes beyond test tubes. The team measured how PEITC affected actual cancer patients. Fabulous! You can read about it in the SD article…but, in a nutshell, after eating a bowl (80 grams) of watercress, a small group of breast cancer survivors had significant levels of PEITC in their bloodstream AND, even more importantly, considerably lower levels of HIF. Super duper.

If you read the abstract (http://tinyurl.com/2dx872u), you will notice that this effect was measured 6 to 8 hours after the watercress was ingested…I say, this is excellent news. And it really seems to prove (even though larger studies are needed) that what we eat could have an impact, perhaps even a significant impact, on our cancer…I find this very exciting.

Anyway…another point scored by the Brassicaceae or Cruciferae family…!!!

Racing for myeloma awareness…

Fantastic news!!!! The International Myeloma Foundation race car design, the one entered in the Toyota Sponsafy Your Ride contest, made it to the semi-finals, yaaaaay!!!, which means that the IMF needs our help…again. For the next nine days, please vote every 24 hours on every computer you own and tell everyone you know to vote…colleagues at work and so on. 

Oh, I have a quick warning. I have had an occasional bit of trouble with this link…very odd, but there you go.  So please double-check that the car that pops up on your screen is the Beating Cancer car known as “Myeloma Survivor” (that should be written on the left-hand side of the screen).

If, as has happened to me, a different car pops up on your screen, please spend an extra few seconds looking for the correct car. Just click on “Gallery,” then type “myeloma survivor” in the “Search” box. Then click right on the car, and you should be taken to the correct voting page…Easy peasy!

Here is the link that SHOULD work: http://www.sponsafier.com/?cc=1282391119708#/gallery/view/367247

Okay, everyone, let’s put on our clicking hats and click away for the next nine days…clickclickclick!

Gadolinium: not to be used for kidney patients…

My thanks go to Beth for posting the link to a recent article (see http://tinyurl.com/36xykd3) on the potentially fatal effects of gadolinium, a drug used as a contrast agent in MRIs. This part of the article is nothing new, actually. Back in December, I posted about a study presented at the 2009 ASH meeting, a study proving that gadolinium helps myeloma cells grow like mad (see http://margaret.healthblogs.org/life-with-myeloma/what-is-multiple-myeloma/mris-and-gadolinium/). The study also showed that this crappy substance can be fatal to patients with moderate (!) or severe kidney disease.

This is not a minor consideration for us myeloma patients. On the contrary. One of our biggest problems is that myeloma can weaken our kidney function. I mean, we hardly need drugs to help our myeloma cells finish off the job, don’t you think? Holy cats!

So, since we already knew that gadolinium was bad news, what is the new information contained in this article? Well, the FDA has finally caught on…It is going to add its strongest warning label to imaging agents that contain the chemical gadolinium, indicating they should not be used in patients with kidney problems. Hah and double hah. About time, I’d say! I mean, who knows how much damage this potentially (only potentially? Hmmm…) toxic stuff has caused since 1988…bloody hell…

Almost like Tom Hanks in “The Terminal”…

I am too sleepy to do any research or finish editing any drafts…and too busy for anything like that, in any case. My two weeks in the States are going to zip by very quickly, so I have to make the most of my time here. And that is why today, while waiting for my parents to wake up, I am going to write about something amusing (in retrospect) that happened to me in the Zurich Airport just a few days ago. Zurich, incidentally, was where my parents and I caught our connecting flight to the States.

Our flight from Florence had been delayed, so we were in a bit of a hurry to change terminals in Zurich, as soon as we realized that our Boston flight was already boarding. But we had to go through security checks and passport control again. Mom went through passport control without any trouble, and then it was my turn.

The customs official opened my passport and looked through it very carefully. She scrutinized every single page. Precious minutes went by. Then she looked up at me and asked: “Do you have another passport?” I managed not to come back with “Oh sure, doesn’t everyone?” (I should note that I am only a U.S. citizen; that is, I do not have dual citizenship) but responded instead, “No, I don’t. Why?” She said, “Well, in that case, we have a problem.” “A problem?,” I repeated, frowning. “Yes. Your last entry stamp to Italy is 2004.” “Ohhhh,” I said, relieved, “That’s because I am a permanent resident of Italy…married to an Italian, you see.” Curling her lips as though I had told her that I lived in a muddy hole and ate guano ten times a day, she enquired, “Do you have proof of that?”

Luckily, for some reason that I cannot explain!, I had made a copy of my permanent resident visa the day before we left. I had also made copies of my medical records. I have never done this before…But, as it turned out, I was, and am!, mighty glad to have ‘em!

I whipped out my trip folder, found the photocopy of my visa and handed it to her. She looked it over and asked, “Do you have the original?” “No, I don’t. The original is in Florence; I don’t travel with it, for safety reasons,” I replied. Again, a scornful lip curl.

She finally raised her head and asked, “When you return to Italy, will you be passing through Switzerland again?” Her tone implied that, should this be the case, I would run into trouble…again. I smothered the desire to utter something snappy, such as, “No, you silly cow, of course not. I will be flying over Switzerland on Harry Potter’s hippogriff…” What I really answered was: “Yes, I will.” She handed back my passport, without further comments. By then her face was covered with smirks…

In her mind, I am certain, she believes that I am probably going to end up like Tom Hanks in “The Terminal.”

I say, what about all those welcoming posters hanging everywhere in the Zurich Airport…the “Welcome to Switzerland” ones, showing idyllic views of snow-capped mountains and cows grazing happily in flower-filled meadows…but, mainly, showing smiling, friendly people offering chocolate bars to tourists ? 😉

Packing and chocolate éclairs…

Well, yesterday I did not manage to finish editing the draft that I have been working on, and my parents and I are leaving Florence in just a few hours, so this will have to be brief. Especially since I am typing on Stefano’s laptop (I am taking it with me), and I still have to get used to this keyboard. Groan. Slow going…at least, for me (=a ten-finger typist).

This article (see below) should give us some éclai…I mean, some FOOD for thought. I subscribe to Jacob Schor’s newsletter. He is a very good, thoughtful researcher. Anyway, I thought some of you might be interested in reading about this new study on prostate cancer and diet…besides, only by clicking on this link will you find out how chocolate éclairs fit into the picture, hehe: http://natmednews.posterous.com/the-chocolate-elcair-diet-for-prostate-cancer

Okay, I have to go finish getting ready. Take care, everyone. I will try to write a brief thingy tomorrow at some point. Ciao! :-)

P.S. I actually wrote this post on Monday, Sept 6th, not the 5th as shown. Just for clarification…! (My blog is on U.S. time, you see…)