Stefano and I are currently in Carmarthen (Wales). I don’t have much time now…need to go to bed (zzzz), but just briefly, these are a few of the highlights so far:

1. Meeting my blog reader and his family went way beyond my expectations; the puffins will have to work hard to beat this part of our trip! We had such a lovely time…hope they did, too! Oxford gets my first wow…and seeing deer, including a baby!, near my blog reader’s house…

2. Avebury and Stonehenge. Wow.

3. Salisbury Cathedral. Another wow.

4. Chepstow Castle and Tintern Abbey…visited these on our way to Carmarthen this morning. Have I written too many “wows”? 

Okay, now I must wow myself off to bed. Needless to say, we are having a fabulous time…even managing to watch some of the soccer games…okay, I am falling asleep now, and we have three castles, a natural park and a distillery on our agenda for tomorrow…good night! 🙂

Wales, here we come…!!!

Until just recently, because of what happened to Piccolo and Pinga, Stefano and I weren’t sure if we would be able to take off on our scheduled (=months ago!) trip to the UK. Luckily, all the cats seem to be just fine and dandy now. Pinga is back to her terrible mischievous self, and Piccolo is bossing the girls around as usual. Besides, we are leaving them in the best of hands–those of my parents.

So yes, Stefano and I are leaving for the UK day after tomorrow—a ten-day holiday (we are returning to Florence on July 4th). Ah, we are taking our tiny laptop with us, so I might have time to post a quick something on the blog in this period, since we will have WiFi access in at least two of the places where we will be staying.

Our dance card is quite full: after landing in London and picking up our rental car, we are driving to a blog reader’s home. This is certainly going to be one of the highlights of our trip. He and I have become very good friends/correspondents since I began blogging back in 2007, but we have never actually met…

He and his wife very kindly invited us to stay with them for a couple of nights…or, hmmm, did we invite ourselves? I forget! 😉 Anyway, he will be the 5th blog reader I have met so far… and of course I hope to meet many more!

On Saturday we will be driving to Avebury and Stonehenge. The following day we are heading to Carmarthenshire (Wales), an area packed with castle ruins (my favourite!) and not too far from the Brecon Beacons National Park and the Gower Peninsula. We won’t be able to see everything, of course, but we will do our best to cover the main sights.

Toward the end of our stay, we will be spending two entire (!) nights on Skomer Island…where we really hope to see a puffin chick (=puffling) and hear the Manx shearwaters (http://tinyurl.com/2uq663b) this year. 

Ahhh, can’t wait to leave…!!! 🙂

Sesame Street!

A blog reader, thanks!, sent me a verrrrrry interesting study a few weeks ago, when we were smack in the middle of our cat crisis, so I only glanced at it. I had a closer look at it yesterday, then finished reading and writing a quick comment this morning. I am in a bit of a hurry today, but I thought this information could be useful to many of us, so please forgive any repetitions I might have made (and so forth).

The abstract (http://tinyurl.com/2wzfue5) tells us the basics: sesamin, a lignan contained in the sesame plant, inhibits the proliferation of a variety of cancer cells, including myeloma cells (!). Another interesting titbit, especially for anyone with high cholesterol levels : sesamin fights hyperlipidemia (=high cholesterol and triglycerides) and hypertension (=high blood pressure), possibly via its effect on a pathway that we have read about over and over again: NF-kappaB (just do a search of my blog or look on the right-hand side under “Pages”; I have written loads about aberrantly-functioning NF-kappaB in myeloma).

But perhaps the most amazing thing contained in the abstract is that sesamin potentiated tumor necrosis factor-alpha–induced apoptosis and this correlated with the suppression of gene products linked to cell survival (e.g., Bcl-2 and survivin), proliferation (e.g., cyclin D1), inflammation (e.g., cyclooxygenase-2), invasion (e.g., matrix metalloproteinase-9, intercellular adhesion molecule 1), and angiogenesis (e.g., vascular endothelial growth factor). Wow…amazing.

Now I will have a look at some of the interesting bits contained in the full study. The study begins with quite a strong statement: Most modern drugs, commonly called targeted therapies, designed within last two decades for cancer are not so safe, are highly ineffective, and are unaffordable. Thus, agents that can overcome these problems are needed not only for treatment but also for the prevention of cancer. “Let food be thy medicine or medicine be thy food” proclaimed by Hippocrates about 25 centuries ago, or 12  serving of fruits and vegetables daily, proclaimed recently by the National Cancer Institute, suggests to look for agents in the diet that may have potential for cancer. Sesamin, a class of phytoestrogens, is one such agent isolated from the oil of sesame seeds (Sesamum indicum), which has been shown to exhibit variety of activities.

And here is more good news: sesamin also blocks the production of IL-6, an acronym that stands for Interleukin 6 = an evil pro-inflammatory cytokine (protein) that is very much involved in myeloma cell survival and proliferation. Hah!

I will skip through Materials and Methods…ah wait, this is interesting. These are some of the cell lines used in the study: KBM-5 (human chronic myeloid leukemia), A293 (human embryonic kidney carcinoma), H1299 (human lung adenocarcinoma), HCT116 (human epithelial colon cancer), and RPMI-8226 (human multiple myeloma). Sesamin blocked any sort of proliferation in EVERY SINGLE CELL LINE. How about that?!!!

There is more: sesamin also inhibited the proliferation of solid tumor cells, such as human pancreatic cancer MiaPaCa-2 cells, human colon cancer HCT 116 cells, human prostate cancer DU145, human lung adenocarcinoma H1299, and human breast cancer MDA-MB-231 cells. (Lucie, pancreatic cancer!!!).

For those who enjoy numbers: the researchers found that sesamin increased the TNF-induced apoptosis from 9% to 65% in KBM-5 cells. And it performed almost as well in myeloma cells, increasing TNF-induced apoptosis (=programmed cell death) from 10 to 47%.

Sesamin inhibited many of the icky things that are linked to the survival and proliferation of myeloma cells: Bcl-2, survivin, cyclin D1, COX-2 and VEGF. Ah, this is extraordinary news! I have dedicated many posts to all these evil “myeloma chums,” which play a leading role in myeloma cell survival and proliferation. If you want more details, just do a search of my blog or look on the right-hand side. Or just take my word for it: this is all EXTREMELY GOOD news for us…

The effect of sesamin on myeloma cells is mentioned specifically on page 5: A wide variety of tumor cell types are known to harbor constitutively active form of NF-kappaB, which often results in chemoresistance and treatment failure. Multiple myeloma cell lines (e.g., RPMI-8226) are known to express constitutively active NF-kappaB. The researchers exposed MM cells to sesamin for 12 hours and found that this lignan completely suppressed constitutive NF-kappaB activation in RPMI-8226 cells. Did you notice the words “COMPLETELY SUPPRESSED”??? 🙂

They did the same with other cancer cell lines. Same result. Excellent news.

The list of sesamin’s effects on cancer cells does not end here, but I don’t want this post to sound too much like a laundry list…or like one of those impossibly knotty posts that I have written in the past. I mean, do we really need to know that sesamin blocked the phosphorylation of p65? No, didn’t think so…all we need to know is that sesamin blocks this “phospho” process, which (I read online) is verrrry important for the survival of myeloma cells.

So, skip skip skip to the Discussion part of the study. Let’s see. Previous studies, we are told, have shown that sesamin is active against the long list of bad things mentioned  in the abstract…AND against septic shock (you learn something new every day…). But nobody had been able to figure out its precise mechanism of action, until this study, that is. Since NF-kappaB has been recognized as the main villain behind the inflammatory processes that cause disease and cancer, these researchers wanted to see if sesamin had any effect on this important pathway. They found out that it really does…Big time.

It appears that sesamin might also be helpful in cases of chemoresistance, which occurs when cancer cells no longer respond to the toxic effects of chemo drugs. The study suggests that sesamin works in a similar fashion to statins, which have also been shown to suppress the NF-kappaB pathway and sensitize the cells to chemotherapeutic agents. I hope that might help those of us who no longer respond to any drugs…

And finally, several clinical trials have shown sesamin to be both SAFE and BIOAVAILABLE. I say, what more could we want? Now I just have to see if it already exists in supplement form…but not today, Stefano and I are finally packing for our upcoming trip to the UK, mainly Wales. More on that in the next few days. Have a great Sunday, everyone!

Maddening ball…

This post has nothing to do with the Soccer World Cup, which is being held right now in South Africa (this is the only time I watch soccer, in fact…). No, it’s about another type of…ball game. Thanks to a blog reader, yesterday I spent about ten minutes playing this “game” and, frankly, going a bit nuts, argh! 😉 If you would like to know what this is all about, click on: http://tinyurl.com/4cbu93. Anyway, I finally gave up. The ball had clearly outwitted me.

As soon as Stefano got home from work today, I asked him to give it a try. I figured he wouldn’t be able to change the ball’s colour, either (hah, silly me…I should have known better…). Within a minute or so, poof!, his blue ball had turned yellow. You could have knocked me over with a cat’s whisker. Laughing at my disbelief, he changed the ball’s colour again, showing me that there is actually a “trick.” I tried it and, after about a minute, my ball was yellow, too…yaaay!

If you are brave enough to try this game, please remember the following: don’t go bonkers if you can’t do it but contact me, and I will try to explain what Stefano’s trick is…Ah, and I would also love to hear from those who are successful (how long did it take you, were you able to change the colour more than once, etc.)…thanks! Just curious! 

Now that I am no longer worried about my kitties, this weekend I plan to read a recently-published study about yet another myeloma-killing supplement…so stay tuned!

Bad vet, good vet…

Before I begin, I should note that I will always be grateful to the “bad” vet for saving Pinga’s life…That said, let’s begin our comparative analysis, which, come to think of it!, could or perhaps SHOULD be applied to our own doctors, too…

Bad Vet:

A bad vet prescribes a drug that has a very common and very scary side effect (I later read about it in about a million Italian animal forums…so yes, it is a VERY common side effect) but gives you absolutely no advance warning about it. So on Sunday evening, completely unaware of the tornado that was about to rip through our house, Stefano and I gave Pinga her first antibiotic. This particular pill couldn’t be crushed and mixed up with a bit of yummy wet food. It had to be thrown down her throat. Period.

The pill was 1. unbelievably huge (hellooo, drug companies, can’t you make SMALL PILLS for small pets???!!!), and 2. incredibly bitter (again, hellooo???), so much so that it had a bright red coating on it. Since Pinga is such a tiny little thing, though, we had to break the pill in half, which meant that part of the bitter white inside was exposed (this is an important detail for what comes later). Anyway, to make a very long story short, we finally–after throwing away four spit-up doses, sigh…–got the pill down her stubborn little throat, using what is called a “pill popper,” which is a very handy device, similar to a syringe. It holds the pill at one end and flattens the cat’s tongue in such a way that she cannot fling the pill back from her throat into her mouth, as cats do, smart little bugs that they are…

Pinga finally swallowed her (fifth) pill. We thought that the worst was over, so, exhausted, we went off to have dinner with my parents. After about 15-20 minutes, Stefano went into the kitchen to get something, and I heard him shout, “Margaret, Margaret!!!, come quickly, Pinga’s got something in her mouth!!!!” 

I dashed into the hall in time to grab Pinga, but there was nothing in her mouth, which instead was completely covered by foam. Stefano and I both thought we had poisoned her and totally panicked, while she looked miserable and kept gnashing her jaws noisily together, producing even more foam, which was dropping all over the place. The other cats were gathered around her, very concerned. What the porcaccia la miseriaccia was happening??? While Stefano rushed her upstairs to our bedroom, I rang the vet clinic.

Signora, it’s normal,” I was told, “it’s simply a reaction to the bitterness of the antibiotic. Don’t worry. If it continues for more than two hours, call us back.”

Wait a second…TWO BLOODY HOURS? IT’S NORMAL? SIMPLY A…REACTION? “Well,” I wanted to scream, “why didn’t you tell me ahead of time that one of the possible side effects of this blasted antibiotic is foaming at the mouth???!!!” At the time, though, I was too worried to be angry, so I just hung up and dashed upstairs to inform Stefano, who was also worried out of his mind.

Stefano and I spent the next 45 minutes on our bedroom floor, watching our little Pinga gnash her teeth and produce mountains of foam…I mean, it was as though she had swallowed an entire bottle of bubble bath. Bubbles were just pouring out of her mouth and onto our bed cover, all over our shirts and on the bedroom/bathroom floors. We kept reminding ourselves that this was a “normal” reaction and tried to keep calm. She finally settled down under our bed, still sporting a Santa Claus beard of foam hanging down to the ground. Slowly, she stopped foaming, shut her exhausted little eyes, curled up into a tiny ball and fell asleep. We cleaned her mouth, relaxed and went back downstairs to finish dinner. This happened on Sunday night…Pinga was fine after a two-hour nap…but oh what a scare she gave us…

Good Vet:

We decided NOT to drive Pinga back to the vet clinic two days later to have the IV line device removed from her right paw. It just didn’t make sense to put her through so much stress—a half hour in the car each way.

There is another vet clinic right around the corner from our house…and in fact, five years ago, one of the vets who works there saved Priscilla’s life (Priscilla’s story is here on the blog). I called this vet…a very nice woman who, after all these years, immediately remembered Priscilla, who was, back then, a wild and ferocious kitten. I was very impressed!

On Tuesday, this vet, with the help of a colleague, deftly removed Pinga’s green bandage and IV line. She and I then discussed Pinga’s case a bit, while Mom was sitting in the waiting room with Pinga. I asked her about this antibiotic, which, by the way, is called “Stomorgyl” (=mainly metronidazole). She said, “Oh yes, foaming is a very common effect. But,” she added, “there are a few things you can try that might reduce or possibly even stop the foaming.”

She told me to put a thin layer of butter on the exposed (bitter) part of the pill. Then, she went on, wrap up the pill and put it in the freezer for a few hours so the butter has time to harden. Cats don’t swallow things the way we do, she explained, so pills get stuck in their throat if you don’t give them something immediately…preferably a greasy something (i.e. not water, as suggested in many YouTube “how to give a cat a pill” videos…). She told me to give her a big dab of hairball remedy and/or some not-too-solid wet food. That would help her swallow the pill, which, once in the stomach and away from the mucous membranes located at the back of her mouth, shouldn’t give her any problems.

So that is what we did on Tuesday night. And, bloody hell!, it really WORKED!!! Pinga swallowed her butter-coated pill, then greedily licked our fingers, which were coated with the paste-like hairball remedy, and also ate some wet food. The pill slipped neatly down her throat and into her stomach, where it could do no harm. She was absolutely fine, and we were immensely relieved.

So that is the difference between a good vet and a bad vet. The bad one just says “oh well, signora, foaming at the mouth is a common side effect.” The good one instead explains WHY the foaming occurs and tells you what you can do to prevent it.

Well, you can bet your baloney sandwich that the following day I called the “bad” vet to tell her what we had done to prevent the horrible foaming reaction (I didn’t mention the other vet, though…you never know…I might have to use the “bad” clinic again). She giggled at first, which annoyed me no end!, but I managed to finish my story. And, believe me, she stopped giggling as soon as I got to the part about Pinga not producing any bubbles at all. I told her sternly to warn her other clients of this common side effect AND also let them know that the foaming COULD be stopped…easily. She agreed…rather meekly, I would like to add. Eh.

Oh wait, something else. Guess HOW MUCH I paid to have Pinga’s device removed by the good vet? (This, by the way, was not an easy thing to do…two vets were involved in the procedure.) Nothing. Not even half a euro…

However, as Mom, Pinga and I were leaving, the good vet announced, with a twinkle in her eye, “hmmm, but for your information, I do love chocolate…” 😉

I guess it will come to no surprise to you to read that we are changing vets…and that we have bought our cats’ NEW (good!) vet a huge amount of chocolate from a famous Tuscan chocolatier called Slitti (see: http://www.slitti.it/)…

A vet who loves chocolate and gives you all sort of practical advice in order for your pet not to suffer…a vet who actually EXPLAINS things to you…what more could you possibly want???

P.S. I took these photos this morning. I am happy to report that Pinga is her normal self…(in photo number three, she is inside her cat tunnel, by the way, and if you look closely you can see the tip of my finger…and yes, she was after my finger…my terrible Pinga…  :-)).

P.P.S.S. Afterthought: would you give your baby an antibiotic that made him/her foam at the mouth? No, didn’t think so. This stuff should either be improved or taken off the market altogether. Just my opinion!

Quick update…

This has been a bit of a rough week (correction: an INCREDIBLY rough week!) for our feline family and, consequently, for us humans, too…but the news is finally good: Pinga came home with us on Sunday. Considering how ill she has been, she is doing quite well…but she is still not completely healed, and we are still keeping a close eye on her. The worst seems to be over, but my fingers are still crossed…!

In the photo, you will notice she sports a green bandage, which covered her “capped” IV line. The vets decided not to take the line out of her paw for 48 hours, in case she got worse at home and had to return to the clinic…luckily, that didn’t happen, so the vets removed the bothersome device late this afternoon, much to Pinga’s relief (and ours, too, believe me!!!). Obviously, I took this photo before the line was removed…here she was lying on my Dad’s belly. You can also see part of her pink tummy, which was shaved for the ultrasound she had on Friday…my poor sweetie!

I will provide a more detailed account in the next few days…plus I have some interesting studies to post about…but right now I have time only for a quick note. That reminds me: I apologize for not having answered your e-mails/contacts…will try to do so in the next couple of days…If I don’t, though, please send me a reminder…thanks! Ciao!


Pinga, my 8 or 9-month old kitten, has been unwell since Tuesday. I won’t go into gory details, but I called the vet immediately, and we decided to put her back on antibiotics (we thought it was a recurrence of the sore throat she had last month). This morning, I gave her her usual shot (not as easy as it sounds…), then left for work. I called home during a break to see how she was doing, and my mother told me that she hadn’t moved from the couch all morning. My heart almost stopped. To make a long story short, I rushed home, and my Mom and I rushed Pinga over to the vet clinic…

Based on an ultrasound, her diagnosis is: cholangitis and cholangiohepatitis. I found a website (http://tinyurl.com/388va8x) that explains what it is: cholangitis is an inflammation of the bile ducts, and cholangiohepatitis is an inflammation of the bile ducts AND the liver. These apparently are common problems in cats.
Pinga is the worst patient in town. She hates to be held down. She was so fierce and squirmy at the clinic that she had to be sedated for her blood tests and ultrasound. She remained calm only when I was holding her (this was before sedation, of course). She wrapped her little paws around my neck and plastered her body against mine…broke my heart…
I cannot tell you how difficult this was both for me and my Mom. The most difficult part, of course, was leaving her at the clinic overnight. The vets told me that she will have to stay there for 2-3 days at least. Of course, we will go visit her and speak with the vets tomorrow morning…
This is a bloody nightmare. Anyway, I just wanted to let you know what was happening and point out the obvious–that I won’t be blogging for a few days…

Please, sir, I want some more.

Busy days. I just finished the translation of a legal text, so I need a moment of relaxation…

Quick Piccolo update: my boy is definitely on the mend…I find his toy balls scattered all over our bed at all times of day, which always puts a big smile on my face… 

Another thing that puts a big smile on my face is that my parents are flying into Florence tomorrow afternoon for their annual three-month (summer) visit. I haven’t seen them since October. I am very excited, that goes without saying, but it also means that I have been doing quite a bit of straightening up and cleaning and so on (oops…Hi Mom!, no, no, the house is ALWAYS spotless and in order…hah, of course it is!!! But I want to make it even MORE spotless for YOU and Dad…uhm…). Okaaay, quick change of subject…

Yesterday I made my second ever attempt at a cream-filled fruit tart (see photo…Puzzola, my eldest cat, reminds me a bit of Oliver Twist, here…): a pâte sucrée base (pâte sucrée is a sort of rich, sweet short pastry…useful when you make tarts, since it really holds its shape) filled with a combination of crema pasticcera (=pastry cream) and Chantilly cream (=flavored whipped cream with a fancy name) AND topped with raspberries from our back yard (that’s the red splotch in the middle of the tart) surrounded by wild blueberries (washed and frozen by yours truly last September) from the Tuscan Apennines.

Oh, I almost forgot: before filling the pastry base, I brushed it with melted dark chocolate, so it wouldn’t get mushy once the cream was added…yes, this thing was RICH. But it’s the cake that Stefano wanted…and, all things considered, it was quite good…though I think I will omit the Chantilly cream next time.

Okay, I have some more housecle…I mean, translating to do…er…yes…


First, a quick Piccolo update: he threw up early this morning, just as I was preparing his antibiotic mush…but then, after about ten minutes, he jumped up on the counter and ate the whole thing…what a relief! The vet warned me that he might be nauseous now and again, and that I shouldn’t worry…so I will not worry…and in fact, other than this minor (I hope!) episode, he seems to be just fine and almost back to his normal self…a bit trimmer, though, which is good: he lost about 1.8 pounds (=800 grams) at the vet clinic.

But the main event today is, drum roll!, Stefano’s birthday. Here is a birthday joke, which I received from a blog reader (thanks!). Dedicated to my sweetie:

This says it all about getting older & the whole aging thing.

An elderly couple are attending church services. About halfway through, she writes a note and hands it to her husband. It says, ” I just let out a silent fart…what do you think I should do?”

He scribbles back, ” Put a new battery in your hearing aid.”

Auguriiiiiii, amore mio! 😀

(P.S. I published this post on June 7th, but it shows up on June 6th…this is due to the time difference between the U.S. and Italy, oh well…)

That’s not my rabbit…!!!

I have a few more amusing (to me!) vet clinic stories. Please bear with me for a few more days, since, as you can imagine, I don’t feel like doing any serious research right now. I must say, though, that things are going very well: Piccolo is eating and drinking again (and dumping toy balls on our bed at night), and tonight I am giving Puzzola her last shot of antibiotics. Life is good…but we need a few more days to recover from THE big scare.

Before I start telling today’s story, I should mention that there were other pets recovering from various ailments in Piccolo and Ciccio’s room at the clinic—two or three turtles, two black rabbits, one white and brown rabbit, two teeny tiny kittens, a German Shepherd and even a dove…

Okay, now for my story. On Wednesday morning, as soon as Stefano and I arrived at the clinic, the head vet told us that Piccolo was well enough to go home. Yippee! While we were paying our bill and discussing Piccolo’s post-clinic care with the vet, a man and woman sauntered into the clinic, loudly announcing that they were there to visit their pet rabbit. The vet told them that they could go right inside and that he would join them as soon as he had finished with us. The couple disappeared around the corner…

We continued to discuss Piccolo’s antibiotics and whatnot with the vet. After about ten minutes, the man hurried back into the waiting room, exclaiming angrily: “Hey!!! That’s NOT my rabbit!!!” The vet looked up from his computer…completely taken aback, “Er, excuse me? Not…your…rabbit???”

“That’s right,” the man continued, “We’ve spent the last ten minutes looking at the wrong rabbit…we finally discovered that ours was in a different cage. We thought something was wrong, since our rabbit has a white mark on its chin, whereas the other one…” He broke off in mid sentence, probably realizing how silly it sounded.

The vet blinked, at a complete loss for words…while Stefano and I turned away from each other, trying very hard not to burst into laughter. Realizing that he would receive no sympathy from us, the rabbit man turned on his heels and disappeared from our view. The three of us exchanged smiles and sighed in unison: “Mahhh…!” (= “mah” is an Italian word expressing perplexity…similar to “beats me!” or “go figure!”).

Last night Stefano and I were still chuckling…

“That’s not my rabbit!!!” is now our favourite sentence in the world…