April 2015 test results

I got my test results yesterday, several days earlier than expected. I’m impressed. That was FAST! It took only five days…

Let’s see. The thing that concerns me the most is that my hemoglobin, hematocrit, and red blood cell count are still slightly below the normal range. Just slightly, so no huge worries. But I can’t just sit back and ignore it. After all, anemia is the “A” in CRAB, so bringing those numbers UP will be my main concern in the next few months, years, decades, centuries…

My white blood cells have also slipped under the normal range, again just slightly (my result is 4.38 instead of the 4.4 it should be). But they’ve been lower in the past, so again, no worries.

Okay, now for the rest. First, the bad stuff:

  • ESR has gone up a bit since my November 2014 tests: it’s 59 mm, was 46. Normal range is 2-25 mm. BUT: it’s been in the 90s in the past, so no big deal.
  • Calcium has gone up slightly, from 8.9 to 9.1. It’s been as high as 9.4, though, and in any case it’s within the normal range.
  • Uric acid: this has gone slightly over the normal range, so it must be monitored.
  • I have “insufficient” levels of vitamin D! Ouch. Well, I stopped taking it about a week before my tests, so what this result tells me is that I need to be taking it ALWAYS. I started again this morning.
  • Free light chains (serum): They are up again. The seesaw effect. But not to a worrisome level. They’ve been MUCH higher in the past but since 2013 seemed to have settled down, except for a bit of seesawing. So, again, no worries.

IMG_4539Good stuff:

  • Creatinine: stable as a rock, slightly lower than it was in November; way within the normal range.
  • Creatinine clearance: better than last tests: 103 instead of 145 (the high end of the range is 151 mm/min). Excellent.
  • 24-hour creatinine is also better than it was in November.
  • LDH has gone from 210 to 175, which is lovely. Normal range: <280.
  • Total protein: stable.
  • B2M, down a notch compared to my November tests, therefore stable.
  • CRP: same as it was in November. Perfect.
  • No Bence Jones protein, as always.
  • Total IgG: it’s still high, but luckily the trend is a downward one. It has been creeping slowly back down with every test…
  • My other Igs are stable, even though practically nonexistent. I’m used to that.
  • M-spike has also gone down quite a bit, as has the monoclonal component. Very good.
  • Parathyroid: lower than previous tests, so that’s good. Anyway, it’s way within the normal range, where it has been since 2013, in fact.
  • Liver function (ALT, AST, GGT) is perfect, as always.
  • Ferritin and iron levels are in the normal range. In fact, my ferritin is up a bit compared to November.

I’m seeing my doctor next week, so if I have anything to add to what I’ve written here, I will do so.

Well, it could have been worse, and it could have been better. But, as the lab doctor wrote on my test results, there are NO significant variations compared to previous tests. And that is always good at this stage…!!! 🙂

Parco della Piana, April 2015

P1030863I have already published a post about the dangers that my beloved bird reserve, the Parco della Piana, located in the province of Florence, is going to face at some point in the future…not sure when…but it’s going to happen, almost certainly. _1040791So I won’t repeat what I wrote back in September on this extremely sad topic (see: http://margaret.healthblogs.org/2014/09/08/a-planned-destruction-my-beloved-parco-della-piana/).

P1050474I want to concentrate instead on the time Stefano and I spent photographing birds in this reserve together with our British photographer friend (I’ve written about him in previous posts) a few weeks ago.

Mainly, I want to publish some of the photos I took. These are not the best in the world, far from it!, but they will give you an idea of what an extraordinary place this bird reserve is…and how terribly AWFUL it would be to lose it…

P1030537P1010946I hope you enjoy the photos!

I certainly enjoyed taking them… 🙂

P.S. As usual, you can hover over the photos to get a description, and you can make some of the photos bigger, too.

Knowledge is power–a new blog post by Dr. Durie

IMG_4570This morning I had my blood tests. Results in early May. I’ll post them here, of course. Good or bad, whatever.

I used to be very apprehensive about tests and results…but years of all this have helped lessen the pre-testing anxiety (and the “what if!!!” syndrome that we all have at one point or another). Reading a funny book, such as “Anguished English,” while waiting for my name to be called at the lab is also a big help… 🙂

Today I came across Dr. Durie’s recent blog post on the subject of eating and drinking. Among other things, I’m happy that he speaks out against Monsanto and its awful pesticide Roundup (just to mention one Monsanto abomination!). And so on.

A good, interesting read: http://goo.gl/mZfFtl And it reminds me–I still have to read “Grain brain”!

Knowledge IS power. I couldn’t agree more with Dr. Durie (whom I met in person at a patient-doctor meeting that was held several years ago right here in Florence, incidentally…).

Thoughts on my upcoming tests…and wisteria blooms…

IMG_4631I’m having my blood drawn day after tomorrow, which means that tomorrow I’ll be doing the 24-hour urine collection (joy!) to determine if I have any Bence-Jones protein in my urine…it’s always been negative, so…fingers crossed!

In the past few weeks–since the beginning of April, in fact–I haven’t given much thought to my smoldering myeloma. I’ve been too busy…mostly too busy having fun, which is always a good thing!

BIMG_4651ut then, last week, as I mentioned in a recent post, I wasn’t able to access my blog because of some mysterious computer glitch. Stefano worked on the problem and fixed it, but that took a few days. And during the brief time that I was locked out of my blog, I got to thinking about how much it–my blog–has meant/means to me.

A lot. A whole big lot. For many reasons…

And now for a series of “ifs.” But these aren’t the regretful sort of “ifs,” as you will see…

  • If I hadn’t been diagnosed with MGUS (1999), then with smoldering myeloma (2005)…
  • if I hadn’t come across the MD Anderson curcumin-myeloma trial…
  • if I hadn’t decided to take curcumin (and believe me, back in 2006 things were very different: most people/MM patients/doctors believed I was rather nutty or perhaps VERY nutty…but now look…many of our doctors are actually recommending that their patients take curcumin! Ah yes, we’ve certainly come a long way…)…
  • if I hadn’t followed a friend’s advice and created this blog…

…I’d be a different person today. I mean, sure, I’d be the same old Margaret that I was in my “previous” life, my life before myeloma, that is…But…yes…different…

IMG_4650For one thing, I wouldn’t have found out that I can actually WRITE (thanks, Dad!).

For another, I wouldn’t have met so many different, generous, kind, brave people (you, my blog readers). By now I have met a whole bunch of blog readers…and I have many new friends who live in different countries, from Italy to the U.S.A…

I have experienced only generosity and kindness from my blog readers, and so I take this opportunity to thank you all…from the heart! Grazie! 🙂

I will never forget, e.g., the day I met a British blog reader who said that Stefano and I could stay in her London apartment anytime we wanted (we haven’t taken her up on her offer yet, but we might!). Or the day we got three different offers from three different blog readers to spend a week with them in New York City. How splendid is all that?

IMG_4624But the first to invite us into his home and into his life was our much beloved British photographer friend (the guy who just came to Tuscany to visit us)…We both love him to bits and always enjoy getting together with him and his family…sweet, wonderful, interesting people.

Okay, let’s get back to the point of this post: in the past couple of days I’ve been thinking that no matter how my test results turn out, I’ve had a really great run with curcumin and a few other naturally-derived, nontoxic extracts. No, I’m not worried about them…these are just considerations that sometimes pop into my brain before I go have blood tests…

More considerations…In early 2006, my hematologist here in Florence told my husband that I could live for five years if I had chemo and an autologous stem cell transplant. Five years??? That’s IT??? Sheesh.

Furthermore, based on my test results, in the autumn of 2005 a world-famous U.S. hematologist told me that I’d be progressing to active MM in five year’s time ( = 2010, that is). IMG_4625

Didn’t happen.

Well, I’ve clearly beaten the statistics. Without chemo or transplants, to boot. And anyway, you know my thoughts on statistics…pfui!

In all these year–since my SMM diagnosis in 2005, that is–apart from a few episodes with the flu AND in spite of my low immune defenses, I’ve been incredibly healthy and have led a happy, active life. In fact, I just got back from driving around with a friend, photographing all the wisteria in bloom that we could find in this area of Florence. All the photos were taken on the way to the hilltop town of Fiesole, incidentally.

IMG_4655Living with smoldering myeloma was not my choice, of course. But I can’t ignore the fact that my SMM diagnosis has made me look at life very differently. It has made me slow down and appreciate and enjoy even the smallest things, things that I might not have done in the pre-MM period…like going off to photograph wisteria in full bloom with a friend. My priorities have definitely changed…

And, as a result, life is good…

Oh dear, look at the time! I really must get off the computer and find the 24-hour urine container for tomorrow. Then I need to give Piccolo and Puzzola (my two eldest cats) their pills. Off I go! Take care, everyone, and enjoy the lovely spring blooms! Ciaooooo! 🙂

Val d’Orcia, Tuscany

_1020045As I mentioned, a couple of weekends ago Stefano and I accompanied a close friend, a photographer from the UK, on a weekend tour of Val d’Orcia, a lovely part of southern Tuscany AND World Heritage Site. _1020312

We had a wonderful, relaxing time.

We spent Saturday night in a 4-star hotel in San Quirico d’Orcia, a lovely little town we’d never visited before, where we were “upgraded” to two deluxe double rooms for the same (bargain!) price we’d found online. What a super deal!

_1020537_1030295The hotel staff were fantastic, very helpful, and the meals we had were absolutely first-rate…and cheap, too, compared to most restaurants you find in Florence.

_1030211So, if you decide to visit lovely Val d’Orcia, get in touch with me. Now I have a few more pointers inside my “can’t-miss-in-southern-Tuscany” bag! 😉_1020111

The only thing is, I’d wait until May or June…or perhaps even late fall or winter. This is an in-between season (which is why we got the hotel deal, in fact)…but, as you can see, Val d’Orcia is still drop dead gorgeous…

_1020130And yes, no doubt about it, the theme in Val d’Orcia is…CYPRESSES! 🙂

Again, hover over the photos to get a description of them…and/or click on them to get an enlargement.

Belgium, April 2015

IMG_3911Yesterday I finally had the time to go through my photos of Brussels and Bruges/Brugge. Here is a random collection of some of my favorites.

And while I’m at it, I have a few recommendations for anyone visiting Brussels:

1. Thematic maps. Go to the Visit Brussels tourist office, which is not far from the central train station, and ask for their “theme” maps (cost: 1 euro each). IMG_3736We bought the Art Nouveau/Art Deco map and the Comic Art map (oh, and the food lovers’ map). These small, illustrated maps take you on a walking tour of Brussels, so you don’t waste any time, e.g., trying to find a specific Art Deco building or comic strip mural on your own. Very helpful.

We really enjoyed exploring Brussels using these thematic maps. IMG_3884 Without them, we might not have noticed the Tintin comic mural on our way to see the Manneken Pis (the small bronze statue of a little boy peeing into a fountain’s basin). I took a few photos of the Manneken Pis, but it’s so famous that I decided to post a photo of the Tintin mural instead (photo no. 3, to the left).

So yes, highly recommended. The maps, I mean.

2. Chocolate. In Brussels, everywhere you turn, everywhere you look, there is a chocolate shop. And I mean: everywhere! I have never seen–or smelled!–anything like it. A chocoholic’s idea of heaven. 😉

There are so many different chocolatiers that you wonder what to do, which chocolate to try.IMG_3748 My advice is NOT to waste your palate on any of the chocolate created for the tourist market. Go directly to one of Pierre Marcolini’s shops (and no, unfortunately I am not getting paid in chocolate to write this recommendation, or in any other way for that matter!). Yes, true, Marcolini’s high quality chocolate is probably more expensive, but it’s so exquisite that you can eat less of it and feel completely satisfied…in chocolate heaven, in fact. Mmmmh. And even if you don’t like chocolate, walking into a Marcolini shop is like walking into a fancy jewelry shop…the chocolates are displayed like jewels…Many thanks to my gourmet friend Simonetta for recommending this chocolatier!IMG_3934

The day after we arrived in Brussels, it just so happened that Pierre Marcolini opened a shop devoted mainly to éclairs (photo no. 4, above). We went to the inauguration, of course!, and Stefano and I split an éclair–one of the most divine sweets I’ve ever tasted, and hey, let’s not forget that I live in Florence, which is full of amazing pastry shops! 🙂IMG_3966

3. Accommodation (etc.). Try to stay in a hotel or B&B in the center of Brussels. We did that and were able to walk everywhere…except for one rainy/overcast day when we decided to take the tourist sightseeing bus, which took us out to the Atomium where, in spite of the rain, the queues were impossible, so we just stayed outside and took photos. See photo no. 5. Another place I highly recommend is the Horta Museum. Note: the hop-on-hop-off tourist bus takes you close to it. IMG_4047

4. Food. We didn’t eat tremendously well, I have to admit, in part because some of the recommended, family-operated restaurants were closed during part of our stay, but we did have delicious, organic breakfasts (in a café near our hotel…we went there every morning!) and one truly fantastic lunch…so if you are headed to Brussels, let me know, and I’ll tell you where they are. IMG_4484

Bruges (starting from photo no. 9, i.e., the waffle photo).

Well, I don’t know if I would call Bruges a “Venice of the North” (!), but it is certainly a very very very pretty and lively town with many canals and photo opportunities…well worth a visit. Make sure you go on a canal boat ride!

IMG_4339I could describe Bruges in four words: canals, tourists, cobblestones and…swans. Yes, swans. Lots of them. The swans of Bruges are actually quite tame (I watched children petting one of them, something I would never do…). And I came across a Medieval legend connected to the presence of swans in Bruges.

IMG_4331As follows (my summary of the legend I found online):

Pieter Lanchals, whose surname means ‘long neck,’ was one of the town administrators at the court of Maximilian of Austria (15th century). He tried to seize power in Bruges but was imprisoned and forced to watch the torture of his supporters. IMG_4271Lanchals was then executed in the Bruges market square. According to the legend, Maximilian of Austria punished Bruges by obliging the population to keep ‘long necks,’ that is, swans, on their lakes and canals until eternity.

IMG_4411Well, whatever the reason for the presence of all these swans, I must say that they added beauty and elegance to our visit and photos. So do make sure to walk to the square where most of them gather…It’s quite a sight!

P.S. Hover over my photos if you would like to have a brief description of the places we visited. You can also make some of the photos bigger by clicking on them.

Computer trouble

I’m posting just a quick note (if my computer lets me, that is!) to say that two days after we got back from Brussels/Bruges (btw, we had a lovely trip and some of the best chocolate I’ve tasted in my entire life!, but I’ll save that for another post… 😉 ), our British photographer friend PK, whom Stefano and I had met years ago via my blog, came to visit us in Florence. And so we have spent the past seven days with him, fantastic fun!, mainly photographing the birds at our bird reserve, the Parco della Piana, near Florence. We also accompanied PK on a weekend trip to southern Tuscany, in the area of the Val d’Orcia, where we photographed some of the most famous cypress landscapes in the world. Breathtaking. Gorgeous. Mmmmh.

Point is: I haven’t been spending much time online lately, as you can imagine!!! 🙂

IMG_4230But there is another thing. I have also been experiencing quite a bit of computer trouble in the past few days. Yesterday I couldn’t even log into my blog, which was very frustrating. Stefano seems to have fixed the problem today but…you never know with computers! Anyway, if my computer behaves, I’ll be sorting through my photos in the next few days and posting a few here. This one is a photo I took in Bruges, near Brussels, on Easter Sunday. We walked almost 18 kilometers that day…yes, eighteen kilometers…not bad, eh?

Belgium, Val d’Orcia, Parco della Piana: three very different places, but all very interesting! And lots of fun, too!

Take care, everyone! Ciao! 🙂