Margaret’s Cats. Living with cats in Florence, Tuscany

Potter in a pot! August 2020

Well, recently I’ve had a bit of extra time on my hands, which I’ve devoted to organizing sock and undie drawers (no, really, I’m not kidding…I have photos of my incredibly neat drawers if you need proof. 😀  ), and, right now, not much desire to dive into medical/scientific articles, to be super honest…even though I do keep my eyes open and continue to read anything of myeloma interest. 

Anyway, this is how I came up with the idea of creating a separate blog, a CAT blog. I’d actually been thinking of doing something like that for years, but didn’t have the time. Well, now I do have the time…sort of…but mainly, I have the inspiration

My inspiration comes mainly from Potter, who is THE cutest kitten on Earth (yeah, yeah, I know, everyone who’s had or has a kitten thinks exactly the same thing…and my Pixie and Pandora were absolutely adorable kittens and very entertaining, too, but Potter is really something else…). 

Potter inspired me to begin writing again. I mean, he gives me so much joy that I wanted and want to, yes, to share it with others…

“What, a cat blog? You’re out of your mind!” Pixie and Pandora, September 2020

So yes, my most recent endeavor is super original (hehe!), I mean, there are only about a zillion cat blogs out there, right?

But this is my “escape” blog. Whenever I need five minutes to get away from the news or myeloma or whatnot, I can go write and publish a story about felines. Purrfect! 

Incidentally, this doesn’t mean that I’m abandoning my beloved Corner. No way! I’ll continue to read and post about interesting and potentially beneficial stuff concerning myeloma, and I’ll continue to answer your questions.

My cat blog will just a place where I can retreat to when I feel like writing something else, something cat-related.

So, please visit my new blog, titled “Margaret’s Cats, Living with Cats in Florence, Tuscany” and, if you’d leave me a comment or two, that would be great. Here’s the link:

I hope you will enJOY it! Ciao!

Coronavirus can damage your heart, even if you’re asymptomatic

Wow, I just realized that I didn’t write or publish anything in August. How did so much time go by? Oops!

All’s well…I’ve just been busy…as you know, we have a new kitten (more on that story soon!) who keeps me quite occupied…I also had a bit of a holiday with Stefano, spent at his aunt and uncle’s home in southern Italy, where for the first time I tasted (and liked!) fried anchovies…We were very careful and didn’t even go to the Amalfi Coast this year. We just stayed in their very nice home, relaxing , cooking, eating, sleeping!, enjoying their company and Stefano’s cousin’s 5-month-old baby, born just a few days after the lockdown in Italy back in March.

And that takes me to the point of this post, a serious post about Covid-19…

In addition to all the scientific articles I’ve read in the past few months, this morning I read a Scientific American article on the damage that Covid can do even to asymptomatic folks: :

This article is therefore a MUST READ for those who don’t wear masks or practice social distancing, in the belief that Covid-19 is a hoax or an exaggeration. It’s not. Coronavirus can really hurt you, even long-term, or hurt someone you love (or anyone, really). So…please be super careful: wash your hands a million times a day, practice social distancing and, most of all, wear a MASK…I mean, it’s such a simple thing to do that could save so many lives…Why some people are so stubbornly against it is beyond my comprehension, way beyond…

So be smart: be safe and wear a mask!

Test results

Yesterday I received the results from my Covid antibody test AND my routine myeloma tests. Yesterday was definitely an important day!!!

So, even though I’m super busy today, I just had to stop and write an update.

First, I tested negative for Covid, which means that I have never been exposed to it. I opted for the more complete antibody test, the one where they draw blood from your arm. There is another test, a mere finger prick, which tells you only if you are positive or negative. But I wanted to know if what I’d had back in January was coronavirus or not. Well, I have my answer now: it wasn’t Covid-19, it was “just” a very bad case of the flu. I guess I’m relieved, since apparently the antibodies don’t protect you from getting Covid-19 again… Anyway…

I also received my regular test results. I began crying as I was going through them. Yes, yes, yes, silly me, I got all emotional. You see, I was supposed to have tests late last year, but I got sick in December, then again in January, so I had to postpone. And then, of course, we were in a lockdown situation over here (which saved many many lives!). And then, when the country began reopening, I didn’t think it was safe for me to venture out much, especially to a lab. So I hadn’t had tests in a very long time. And, I admit, I was worried.

Well, I needn’t have worried at all. My results are excellent, to say the least.

My M-spike, for example, has gone under 3 g/dL for the first time since 2012!!! It’s 2.9 now. Amazing!

My total IgG has gone down 820 mg/dL, which takes it to 2010 levels. I would like to note here that in 2013 all of my main markers worsened…It was a very difficult, stressful year for me and for Stefano (not for our relationship, which has always been very very solid). My total IgG shot up to slightly over 6000 g/L, which really scared me, and not just me. But, in agreement with my doctor and Stefano, I worked on getting my stress levels under control, among other things. Well, those efforts paid off. That number started going down with every single test, slowly but surely. And now we’re back in the 3000 mg/dL range. It’s taken time and dedication, but, amazingly…I did it!

All my other markers are good, too. Either they’ve gone down a bit or they have remained stable, in the normal range, mostly. My IgM and IgA, of course, are still VERY low, but they are the same as they have been, as far back as 2016.

Hemoglobin and hematocrit = normal range. My red cell count is slightly under the normal range, 4,10 instead of 4,20, but it’s higher than it was last year (3.86). White cells, platelets, calcium, uric acid, creatinine = all normal. And…no Bence Jones.

There are a couple of negative items. My Freelite chains are slightly higher than they were last year, but they’ve been even higher in the past, so I’m not concerned.

My B2M concerns me more. It should be a maximum of 2.5 mg/L, but it’s 2.9 now. However, like the Freelites, this marker has also been higher in the past…In fact, it was 3.0 last year. So, again, no big concern.

All in all, therefore, THREE CHEERS FOR THESE TEST RESULTS!!! I’m super relieved, super pleased. Tomorrow we’re going to celebrate…We’re having a couple of close friends over for lunch and will spend the afternoon watching their little girl play with Potter. Hehe. Fun!

Come to think of it, I wonder if the anticipation of getting another cat had something to do with my good results. Did Potter work his magic on my tests?

Who knows…! 😎 

Welcome, (Harry) Potter

Some time ago, Stefano and I decided that we wouldn’t adopt kittens anymore, not because we don’t like kittens, on the contrary, who can resist a KITTEN?, but because there are so many adult cats who need good homes. Getting adopted is much harder for adult cats, especially if they have any kind of physical disability or if they are elderly or…whatnot. And so we made up our minds: no more kittens!!! Our rule became: if we come across an adult kitty that nobody else wants to adopt, we’ll adopt it.

SInce then, I’ve learned a lesson: never make any rules where cats are concerned…

About two months ago, after the end of the coronavirus lockdown in Italy, a close friend of mine lost her beloved cat of 17 years. She was absolutely devastated. Since I have experienced that kind of grief, too many times!, she and I spent a long time together in that first period in particular. She’d come to visit me, and we’d both wear masks. Very odd, that! But, necessary, of course. 

Her partner, also devastated, wanted to adopt another kitty, even though he knew, of course, that you can’t replace one cat with another. He thought, however, that it would lessen their grief a bit as well as help their 4-year-old kitty, who was clearly confused and sad, having been extremely attached to the cat they had lost. She was still wandering around their apartment, looking for him, eating very little. Cats mourn, too…That has been proven in studies, but I have seen it myself, with my own cats…

But my friend, whom I’m going to call Ale from now on, wasn’t ready. She said no, no more cats. Typical reaction. I’ve had it, too…

Well, soon after her “no more cats” pronouncement, Ale got a call from her cousin, who had recently become a Maine Coon breeder. On May 4, her female cat had given birth to a litter of gorgeous kittens.

And that is how Fate intervened.

Ale and her partner went to see the kittens and picked one: a male, all black with a white bib and a splash of white on his toes. Adorable! Of course, there was a waiting period before he could be separated from his mother…

While waiting for her kitten to reach the age of 2.5 months, Ale took many photos of all the kittens and their pedigree parents. Wow, I thought they were the most gorgeous creatures I’d ever set eyes on. I knew about Maine Coons but had never even seen one in the flesh. I was curious. I went online and discovered that they are great family cats, very sweet, good-natured, friendly, playful, loyal, affectionate…the list of excellent qualities goes on. I began being very curious to meet that Maine Coon family…

And then Ale told me that all the kittens had been chosen…except for one of the males.

Stefano and I began talking about adopting him. It was a joke at first, it really was!, but then we began talking about it seriously. We were bothered, however, by the fact that we’ve never paid any money for a cat, well, except for adoption expenses such as taxes. We just couldn’t wrap our heads around the thought that we would be BUYING a kitten, with a pedigree!, when there so many needy (ADULT!!!) cats in the world…Besides, what about our rule???!!!

So I came up with an idea. I figured the cousin would say “NO, no way.” In a nutshell, I told Ale that IF her cousin couldn’t find a home for the remaining kitten, we’d be happy to adopt him…at a discount, though! I told her to wait until just before the kittens were ready to go to their new homes, but Ale was so excited that she told her cousin immediately. And, to our complete surprise, the cousin agreed to give the kitten to us. And yes, at a discount! We were not expecting that!

We later found out that Ale’s cousin had turned down many full-price offers for this kitten. She hadn’t become a Maine Coon breeder for the money, since she and her husband have their own businesses and are doing well. They both simply love Maine Coons, so she wanted to make sure that the remaining kitten would find a loving family where he’d be well taken care of. When Ale told her about us, about how fabulous we are 😎 , the cousin knew we’d be right for the kitten and decided to give him to us. First, though, Ale took me to her cousin’s house to meet all of them, humans and felines. Her cousin and I really hit it off…and then I took one look at the kitten, and my heart melted. We finalized the agreement.

Incidentally, many odd circumstances surrounded this adoption. One was that all the kittens were ready to be taken to their new homes on Saturday, July 18, which is my birthDAY! (Yes, I turned 59 on July 18…And to think that when I was diagnosed with SMM in 2005, after six years of living with MGUS, I thought I’d be dead within ten years at the most, probably less. Yet here I am, 15 years later, very much alive…and now, I have a Maine Coon cat, a cat with a PEDIGREE, which I also considered an impossibility! Very amusing, I must say.). And there were other coincidences…but I will spare you the long stories.

Point is: we went to pick up our new kitten-with-a-pedigree on my birthday. The best birthday present EVER!

We named him (Harry) Potter.

Potter, for short. Of course! 😉

It turns out that we picked the right name for him. When we introduced Potter to our adult cats, there were mixed reactions. Pandora simply disappeared whenever he entered a room. Poof! Like magic. Harry Potter magic. 🙂

Pinga ignored him (“if I don’t look at him, he doesn’t exist”). Pavarotta hissed and growled at him whenever he got too close to her.  Same for Prezzemolo, who kept his distance…still does a bit, actually. Peekaboo began by hissing at him and looking very cross, but he kept on running/hopping over to her and putting his nose up against hers, which startled her so much that she stopped hissing. I’m sure they will get used to him. Pixie is the bravest…She’s more curious than afraid of the little ball of fluff. So the introduction has gone and is going VERY WELL. As for Potter, he goes about his business, playing, eating like a T. Rex, without a care in the world. If he gets hissed at, occasionally, he stops in his tracks only for a nanosecond, then keeps on going…

What else can I say about Potter? He is the most adorable kitten in the world, of course! He’s funny, smart (he’s already figured out how to play all the cat games we have, and he loves cat videos, too!), loving, and, of course, devastatingly handsome.

This little furball (soon to turn into a huge cat, at the rate he’s eating!) has brought such joy, such happiness into our lives, NOT that we were unhappy before, mind you, but he’s certainly a shining star…our shining star…

So, welcome, welcome to our family, Potter!

Blood tests

I haven’t had my regular blood tests (plus Bence Jones) in several months for a variety of reasons, mainly the Covid-19 lockdown, then the slow reopening here in Italy.

On Monday, I finally decided to make an appointment at the lab where I always have my tests done. I went there yesterday morning.

I got there early and had to wait for about 15 minutes. Things have really changed, compared to the pre-Covid era, I mean: a nurse greets all patients outside the lab building and makes the early birds like me wait outside. Much better…I feel safer outside, anyway.

So here’s the new procedure: you wait outside until the time comes for your appointment or until your last name gets called. At that point, you have to rub your hands with disinfectant from an automatic dispenser (I used my own hand sanitizer, though) and then have your temperature taken with a non-contact forehead thermometer.

Inside, in the waiting room, you can’t just sit anywhere, the way it was before. Social distancing is the rule now. Before, there were about 35-40 seats. Now there are 5 or 6; the others are taped off.

Oh, and, of course!, goes without saying, you have to wear a mask at all times, even while you are waiting outside. In Italy, pretty much everyone understands that it has nothing to do with politics (duh), and that it’s just PLAIN STUPID and POTENTIALLY VERY DANGEROUS not to wear a mask.

Besides, in any case, it’s still the rule.

Case closed.

Yesterday morning I was actually wearing two masks–a surgical mask underneath a cloth mask. That is my new norm: whenever I leave the house, go into stores or any type of enclosed public space, I wear two masks, even though the rule is one mask (at least). Stefano wears two masks, too.

Can’t be too safe. I am well aware that I have a weak immune system…no idea what Covid would do to me, and I really don’t want to find out. Neither does Stefano.

Anyway, compared to other countries that have reopened way too soon, Italy, now in Phase Two ( = living alongside the virus), is doing quite well. Covid-19 hasn’t disappeared, but the infection and death rates are way way down. I just hope that people returning from abroad, and tourists of course!, won’t begin spreading Covid-19 here again.

That’s my main worry: Italy was THE first European country to shut down and one of the first to reopen. We don’t want to go through another lockdown. Really don’t. That said, I am comforted by the fact that all the people I have seen out and about here in Florence are wearing masks.

And, you know, life can still be enjoyed, in spite of these restrictions…Perhaps I should have written, “thanks to” these restrictions. We know that wearing a mask, washing our hands frequently, keeping our social distance, and following the rules set by the medical and scientific communities, can keep us safe. I simply would not be able to enjoy being in a non-safe environment right now…with maskless people, for example.

Anyway, to give you a quick example of how life can be enjoyed, Stefano and I have EATEN OUT three times in the past few weeks. Yes, we have eaten out…with friends…in RESTAURANTS. Very exciting, after so many months of being cooped up inside our homes.

I admit, the first time was a bit scary, but we have always chosen places with outside tables…Every member of the staff (from cooks to servers) has to wear a mask, the tables are NOT close together, and so on. It was so nice to eat out in a safe way…

So, it can be done…!

Dexamethasone and Covid-19

I meant to write this post earlier but…stuff happens, such as our blocked kitchen sink pipe (We spent all day Sunday trying to “unblock” it using a bunch of different methods, including a high-pressure cleaner!, but to no avail. So today I’m waiting for the plumber to come fix it…), and I didn’t get to it until now. So you have probably already read about the Dex-Covid-19 connection. I’ll write this bit of news anyway, for those of you who might have missed it.

Last week Stefano asked me if I knew what dexamethasone was. Do I know what dexamethasone is? Hah! You can imagine my reply… 😉 

Anyway, he’d just read the news that Dex, as it’s more familiarly known to us myeloma people, has recently been found to reduce Covid-19 mortality by, drum roll!, a whopping 35% in hospitalized patients who are on ventilators. It’s all here, in this BBC article:

Well, it’s good to know that there’s an option out there for very ill, hospitalized Covid-19 patients, even though Dex does come with its side effects (the “Dex days” that many myeloma patients have to endure…).

Still, yes, very good news!!!

Personal note: I’ve slowly been venturing outside the house to run a few errands. I wear TWO masks–a surgical mask AND a good cloth mask made by friends to raise money for the cat shelter (these cloth masks are very pretty, colorful, and full of, what else?, cats!).

So, everything is peachy in my little world…oh, except for the bloody drain pipe in the kitchen! 😉

Stay safe, everyone, and wear a mask!!!

Yesterday I helped save a dog

Yesterday morning I received a whatsapp text from one of my neighbors who had spotted a small, terrified dog on the other side of the tiny river at the bottom of our hill. She took a photo of it and asked if it belonged to anyone we knew. Wait, before going on, I should note that, years ago, my neighbors and I created a whatsapp group that enables us to get in touch quickly should anything happen or if anyone needs anything or whatnot. This group is super useful at times, as it was yesterday, as it turns out…

Some of my neighbors immediately mobilized to help this little dog. They didn’t wait for the municipal police to arrive but got a ladder, lowered it down into the tiny river, really no more than a stream, and carried the dog over to the other side, to safety.

I was still at home when all this happened. But as soon as I got my neighbor’s message and photo, I remembered something I’d seen earlier that morning on Facebook, a desperate appeal posted by a woman whose dog had run off the day before, with her leash on. I took another look at the photo on Facebook and, yes, I was sure it was the same dog.

So I texted my neighbor to tell the policewomen, who had just arrived, to call the FB woman’s cellphone. I then went down the hill to see if I could help. The poor little dog was still terrified, so terrified that she had refused to eat anything, even though she must have been starving. So we (a bunch of concerned neighbors and two lovely municipal policewomen) just stood around, keeping our social distance and wearing our surgical masks, of course, until the dog’s happy owner arrived. All of a sudden, the terrified, motionless little dog became the happiest dog in the world…dancing around and licking her owner, as you can see in this happy photo I took (cutting off the woman’s head, sorry!, for privacy reasons)…

And to think that if I hadn’t seen and remembered the appeal on Facebook, the policewomen would have had no choice but to take that scared little dog over to the municipal kennel, and it might have taken days for them to track down her owner…

I’m soooo glad that didn’t happen.

Anyway, all’s well that ends well. I helped save a dog yesterday, and it made me feel like a goddess for the rest of the day. 😉

Quercetin has anti-myeloma activity

A study from 2016 came to my attention today, thanks to a member of one of the MM Facebook groups to which I belong.

This study shows that quercetin works well both alone AND in combination with dexamethasone. Let’s not forget that it’s a proteasome inhibitor (like curcumin and, in the conventional world, Velcade).

Here’s the direct link to the study: 

I have to admit that I haven’t taken any quercetin in years, but it looks as though I’ll be putting it back on my “menu” now. For many reasons, not just because of its anti-myeloma activity…

Quercetin is good for a bunch of other things. For instance, it may reduce inflammation, blood pressure, and blood sugar, as well as protect against degenerative brain diseases. And the best thing is that it can be found in many of the foods we eat every day, including (red) apples, onions, cherries, broccoli, and so on. But of course it’s easier to get it in a capsule format…easier, that is, than eating a truckload of red apples every day. 😉 

A bunch of years ago, when I did some research on quercetin, I wrote that one shouldn’t take more than 1.5 grams a day, so please be careful with dosage. Do a search of my blog for more information…

Anyway…good stuff!

Stay safe, everyone!

Terry Golombick’s new website

Now, I don’t usually do this sort of thing, but I’m making an exception today because I have such a HIGH regard for Dr. Terry Golombick. If you don’t know who she is, just do a search of my blog…In a nutshell, she was in charge of the Australian MGUS and SMM curcumin patient trials…so, lots of experience, there…

Terry has recently relaunched her website and is offering consultations specifically for MGUS and SMM folks who live in or near Sydney, Australia. I think it’s WONDERFUL…

Anyway, here’s the link for those lucky Sydney-dwellers:

But even if you do NOT live in or near Sydney, have a look at her website, which has some very interesting information. For example, how about those three case studies, eh? Nice! 🙂 

Take care, everyone! And…WEAR A MASK!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

P.S. the photo in this post is of a purple Allium (ornamental). It’s so tall…and so pretty…to the point that some of my friends think it’s fake, hehe. Nope, it’s real. And it’s in my garden! BTW, I took this photo from above…

Reaching out to all MGUS, SMM, MM patients and caregivers

Last week I was contacted by Stephen Quinn, a Ph.D. student at Queen’s University in Belfast. He informed me about a study called IMPaCCT whose intent is to look at the effect that the current Covid-19 crisis has had, and is having, on pre-cancer, cancer and rare disease patients and their caregivers. The researchers, which include Stephen, hope to be able to use this data to inform patients and caregivers, as well as publish their findings in scientific journals.

He asked for my help in reaching out to smoldering myeloma and MGUS patients. Of course! So, how can we help? By taking their online SURVEY. I am about to do that, in fact. It should take about 20-30 minutes. No big deal, if we can help others, right? So please do it!

Here’s the direct link:

Please note that if enough people respond to the survey, this Queen’s University group will be able to provide pre-publication information to charities/groups so that they can better support their members during these challenging times.

So this is really important. Please take the survey! Thanks, everyone!