Holiday pets



Peekaboo (1)

Whenever Xmas comes around, the Internet is invaded by photos of the most adorable, smiling, perfect pets posing beautifully for the camera, all dressed up in absurd Xmas costumes, Santa hats, ornaments, bells, ribbons, and bows.


I think it’s absolutely normal to want to take adorable holiday photos of our pets. But let’s say that you’re having trouble getting your pet to sit still for the festive family portrait…No problem, just click onto one of the many websites giving out tips on how to get your pet to pose…

Peekaboo (2)

One of them advises to use treats and bribery (might work for dogs…), as well as using “props to create and tie themes together.” Well, duuuh. I’m using a bloody Santa hat, you guys…how much “proppier” can you get??? Aaah…so silly.

Okay, okay, forget about those stupid websites. Just take your own photos.


Every year, even though my past efforts have been mediocre at best, I stubbornly decide that my amazingly adorable cats have to do something cute and holiday-related for the camera. They just have to! This year, I reasoned, we have SEVEN cats, so one of them is bound to cooperate…I should be able to get at least ONE good photo, right?

Besides, I continued reasoning, if other humans can get their pets to be incredibly “holiday cute,” then so can I. And I can do it without treats or fancy props or Photoshop, which I don’t know how to use anyway. Hah!

Well, here are a few of the results of my efforts for Xmas 2014. Hehe, I know, I know…


Which is your favorite?

Mine has to be this last one, of Priscilla. I’d just woken her up from a nap, and she wasn’t all that pleased… If I hadn’t taken this photo myself, I’d have said it looks like a total fake. But it isn’t…and the hat is real (the same I used in all the photos), I swear!!! 🙂

At any rate, even if you don’t end up with the purrrrfect photo of your holiday pet or pets, the important thing is for all of us to have a wonderful holiday filled with joy and friendship and fun and, of course, yummy things to eat.

And so…Merry Xmas, everyone…pets included, of course! 🙂

The Domus Aurea flu

At first I thought it was just a cold. Actually, with myeloma, there is really no such thing as “just a cold.” Because of our impaired immune systems, a cold can develop quickly into a chest infection, etc. So even with the mildest of sniffles, we have to intervene…quickly.

IMG_2839But let’s start at the beginning. Ten days ago Stefano and I went to Rome to visit the Domus Aurea, an enormous “pleasure palace” that used to be covered in gold leaf (hence its name, the “Golden Palace,” in fact), built by emperor Nero after a fire destroyed most of the center of Rome in 64 AD.

After Nero’s death in 68 AD, his successors began erasing all traces of the extravagant palace built by an unpopular emperor. Within a decade they had removed anything that could be used elsewhere — marble, statues, etc. IMG_2856And then they had the entire palace filled with earth and rubble and buried, so that they could build other things over it (the Baths of Trajan, e.g.). The palace remained underground, invisible, forgotten, until the end of the 15th century, when a young Roman fell through an opening in the hill above, ending up inside a strange grotto full of wall paintings (see my last photo). By the way, these grotto paintings gave rise to the term “grotesque” (grotesque painting). And here’s another interesting note: Michelangelo and Raffaello were among the many Renaissance painters who lowered themselves into these grottoes to study the paintings…possibly through this hole, one of many, in one of the ceilings (see photo above)…

The Domus Aurea has been closed to the public for ages while undergoing restoration and consolidation work. After part of the roof collapsed in 2010, the Domus remained closed for four years, e.g. It reopened in October 2014.  Stefano found out and immediately reserved our tickets for December. And so, on December 13th, we were in Rome…

IMG_2872When you visit the Domus Aurea, don’t expect to see anything but the massive original structure. Here and there you will see some color on the walls  and even a few painting details, but the palace is pretty much bare. It is still underground, and it is still being restored and renovated, which means that you have to wear hard hats during the entire visit, as you can notice in these two photos, above and below. It’s also a guided tour, but I missed most of what our guide told our group because I was always too far behind, taking photos of everything…IMG_2898

After an hour spent touring the Domus, Stefano and I had a lovely lunch in the Jewish Ghetto (when you’re in Rome, you have to try “carciofi alla Giudia,” which are basically fried artichokes, but ooooooh…so yummy!), then walked around Rome — piazza Navona, Castel Sant’Angelo, St. Peter’s. In the early evening we hopped back on one of those amazingly fast trains to return to Florence. A quick aside: the Florence-Rome trip now takes slightly over an hour (an hour and 20 minutes, to be a bit more precise). Compare that to the 45 minutes that it takes me to cross Florence sometimes!…Astounding, huh?

IMG_2876Okay, back to the main purpose of this post, I guess. The day after we had been to Rome, we went to the mountains with some friends, one of whom wasn’t feeling very well. The weather was dreary and miserable…In the evening I began feeling a bit on the icky side.

By Monday night I had a sore throat. Drat. I thought it was “just” a cold and stuffed myself with echinacea and elderberry. But by Wednesday afternoon, when the Dreaded Cough began, I knew that I would have to bring out the big guns. Today is Day Seven of Antibiotics. I feel much better, but I’m still coughing…much less than a few days ago, though, which is most encouraging. 🙂 I continue to take curcumin, of course, since it’s antiviral and antibacterial, and I’m taking other natural remedies, too. And of course, probiotics!

So where did I get “infected”? Who gave me this blasted flu that might prevent me from making my Xmas cookies (horror!)? I think it must have been on the train from Florence to Rome (or Rome to Florence). Funny thing, though: I’ve been on so many transatlantic flights surrounded by coughing, germy people, and I’ve never caught a bloody thing. Then I go on ONE train ride, and BOOM!, I’m in bed with the flu. Well, the only “consolation” is that this icky flu is going around right now, and some folks are a lot sicker than I was…That means my little immune system is still going strong. Good job! 🙂

Anyway, I’ll be fine soon. A few more days of convalescence should do it…just in time for Xmas, yaaaay!!!

First, do no harm

Oh for crying out loud, here we go again — an article on early treatment for smoldering myeloma folks who have no CRAB symptoms, not One Single One.

My favorite thing to read.


You can read the entire article (it’s not long, just a couple of pages) here:

Interesting excerpt: Before enrollment in an SMM treatment trial, patients should be aware that the “watchful waiting” approach remains a legitimate strategy given the body of current evidence. It is important to note that there is significant discordance (>70%) in the overall SMM patient risk classification and that prospectively obtained risk models are not yet widely in use. Thus, better predictive models and biomarkers need to be validated prospectively before one can determine an individual’s lifetime risk of disease progression with certainty. Despite recent advances, the standard of care of SMM remains a “watchful waiting” approach, as larger international randomized studies and longer follow up are awaited.

Yes indeed, I fully agree that it is important to note that MORE than 70% of the experts disagree on how to classify us smolderers. MORE THAN SEVENTY PERCENT??? Wow, that’s so amazingly encouraging…


Well, at least these researchers lists “treatment toxicity” for SMM patients as a “concern,” since there is no way of predicting who might progress to active myeloma and who might remain at this stage forever.

They also mention the fact that current treatments can give rise to “serious toxicities.”

This part of the article, if not the entire article, shows, at least to me, how doubtful and hesitant our myeloma experts are, and that was very interesting to note. At one point, e.g., they wonder “whether the benefits of treatment of SMM are justifiable in the light of the risks involved.” (You can imagine what my answer would be…)

And it is precisely the discussion about the risks involved that most intrigued me…So let’s have a closer look at the myeloma cell subpopulation section (at the beginning of page 1770).

First, what are these subpopulations? The article provides the answer: “at MM diagnosis, recent data inform us that there is no single clonal population of malignant plasma cells but rather different subpopulations that are branching off an original clone.”

While the researchers themselves admit that very little is known about HOW these subpopulations interact, it seems that they COMPETE for survival in the tumor microenvironment).

I can’t help it — my mind is now filled with battle scenes from the movie “Braveheart” — swords, axes, clubs, spears, heads bashed in, blood, guts, body parts everywhere…except in this case we have myeloma cells fiercely charging and whacking away at other myeloma cells…But okay, I’m getting a bit carried away…

Let’s step back for a moment and imagine that the subpopulations of myeloma cells in SMM folks are in a sort of delicate balance: there are groups of really nasty evil slobbering myeloma cutthroat criminals floating around and coexisting with groups of relatively innocuous myeloma dumbbells. They’re all just hanging out, without causing any serious injuries or damage, at least for the time being.

But then, at a certain point, all these subpopulations get smacked over the head with a bunch of chemo drugs.

The first to go are the weakest ones.

This means that we are left with the potentially dangerous bad cutthroats who’ve managed to escape the chemo bombs…

Let’s also not forget something that I don’t think the article mentions at all but that is CRUCIAL: chemo bombs don’t differentiate between good and bad cells. This means that the tumor microenvironment has been changed radically now: the weak myeloma cells are gone…but so are the good cells…

So what happens then? Without their weaker rivals, the cutthroats have more room in which to move around in as well as more opportunities to proliferate and wreak havoc in their newly-changed surroundings. In my Braveheart scenario (which is based on what I have read here and elsewhere), this seems to fall under the expression “clonal evolution” used by the researchers in that helpful red and green table, the one with the red question mark on top.

I don’t know about you, but I find this potential scenario really freaky…

Therefore, given all these unknowns, given all these risks, why (OH WHY????) jump the gun and intervene before it’s necessary? It simply makes ZERO sense. Let’s summarize the main points:

  1. The experts themselves can’t agree on how to classify us smolderers.
  2. There is no way of knowing what happens when chemotherapy is administered to someone who has no CRAB symptoms.
  3. Treatment toxicity is a real concern. Not a potential one.
  4. Last but not least, it seems that the potential for strengthening the super evil, stronger, more resistant-to-treatment myeloma subpopulations is E-NOR-MOUS.

Too risky. Too dangerous.

In sum, this article merely reinforces my conviction that early intervention — both in a clinical trial setting and, worse, in a non-trial setting — sucks…

big time…

A Harvard Gazette article on blood cancer mutations…

I’ve always wondered if I would have been better off knowing that someday I might develop multiple myeloma…or any other disease, for that matter.

Before I go on, I want to tell you a short personal story: about 25 years ago I found out that one of the students in my M.A. program was a psychic/fortune teller. I also found out that she’d told some interesting things to some of my colleagues. Well, I’m a born skeptic, but I was intrigued, I admit. And so one day I asked her if she’d tell me my “fortune,” too. She agreed (very nice lady, btw). So off we went, all the way up a hill overlooking the campus, far away from everyone. I don’t remember much about our encounter, but I do recall that she first looked at my hands and then held them for a while. She told me a bunch of things, some of which she couldn’t possibly have known, ending with this ominous statement: “You won’t die of old age.”


I remember feeling very uneasy…and at a loss for words. I’m certain that I didn’t ask the obvious follow-up question: “well, what will I die of, then?” I’m such an inquisitive creature, especially now, that I sometimes regret NOT having asked that question…

Okay, back to the reason I’m writing on this rather peculiar topic: yesterday afternoon I read a very interesting Harvard Gazette article on a group of Harvard and MIT researchers who have discovered “an easily detectable, premalignant state in the blood,” which identifies those folks who are more likely to end up with blood cancer:

Interesting read, don’t you think?

So let’s say you are in your 20s — the same age I was when I was told my “fortune.” You go in to have blood tests and find out that you have a 10% risk of developing blood cancer at some point in your life. Then, after decades of worrying and fretting and whatnot, you turn out to be as healthy as turmeric root. Unless my math is totally off, in fact, about 90% of the folks with the mutated cells will NOT develop any kind of blood cancer…

Now, wouldn’t it have been better NOT to have been told in the first place? Is it really worth it to go through life with a perhaps nonexistent sword hanging over your head?

That said, if I had known about my risk factor AND about curcumin long before I was diagnosed with MGUS, I wonder if things might have turned out differently. Would I still be at the MGUS stage? Or would I not have developed MGUS at all?

Who knows?

Anyway, I’m curious to know what the researchers will come up with next. If they could find a way to stop the subset of naughty cells from developing…Well, that would be a great bit of news indeed!

When in doubt…post a link.

I got home on Saturday — very nice to be back with Stefano and the kitties — and have been incredibly busy since then…as well as recovering from jet lag…zzzzz. And…

Oh dear, I can’t think of anything interesting to write about. Hmmm. Soooo, what do you do when you’d like to publish a quick post but can find absolutely nothing to say? Simple — you post the link to a video. 🙂

Seriously, though, this is one of the most extraordinary videos I’ve seen in my entire life. It’s a brief scene taken from a BBC documentary, showing elephants delicately touching the bones of a female ancestor. I’ve never seen anything like it, and I bet you haven’t, either…unless of course you’ve already seen this video. 😉 Anyway, it lasts less than three minutes, so please have a look: