WHEN BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE

For the past couple of months we’ve been struggling with intense sadness, brought by the shocking news that our very dear graduate student, and my lovely friend, Aritri was diagnosed with a very rare and aggressive type of cancer. She had surgery on the day of her 30th Birthday, and the diagnosis came a few days later as a New Year sarcastic surprise, on January 1st. Her cancer, leiomyosarcoma, is pretty much unheard of in women in her age bracket, hitting those in their 50’s instead. Usually post-menopausal women. A very unlucky roll of the dice for our friend.

Aritri has been working daily on the bench right next to mine for the past 5 years. I taught her every technique of molecular biology I know, and she not only learned them all, but I must admit, she does them better and faster than her mentor. You want something tricky done as efficiently as possible? Give it to Aritri.  She loves having a ton of stuff to do (I often think she pushes the envelope a little), and after lab meetings in which we go over what everyone is doing, she will often approach me with a very characteristic smile and ask  “why don’t you let me do it for you?”  She loves being busy, she loves earrings, colorful outfits, she loves to cook, to have fun, she loves to sing and does so beautifully – at a professional level, actually. She often performs at functions on campus.

Bottom line is, she is a special person in our lab in general and in my life in particular. I wish I had a magic wand to wave and make this nightmare go away from her life. So that she can go on to become a successful scientist, so that she can go on singing, and brightening up the world around her with her smile, her beauty, her sense of humor and sweetness.  I don’t have a magic wand, but I do have this blog and I hope that you understand if I use it to at least try to help her deal with the financial burden of what she is going through.

To this end, I am setting up a GoFundMe campaign for her, and the link is here.

I should let you know that I will not keep track of who is donating or not, I don’t want to do that. Not everyone can donate, and that doesn’t mean a person does not care. I leave it up to you, if you can do it, we really appreciate it.

One final note: if you try to donate, the way gofund is set up, it makes you think there is no way to avoid including an extra tip. Just scroll to “OTHER” and fill the value with zero.  

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THE IRON (UPTAKE) CHEF CHALLENGE

I wish I could take credit for coming up with Iron Uptake Chef, but one of my readers – you know who you are – coined the term for me. Coolest title ever!  Iron uptake experiments are my “thing” in the lab. You know how a person might love to make pasta from scratch, or bake breads, or bake cookies, and that is their comfort zone in the kitchen? In a lab, we all have our favorite experiments. For me, by far, it is anything related to iron uptake. These experiments require careful timing and I was born with a chronometer inside my head. Anything that requires careful timing, please let me take care of it. I love it, and all modesty aside, do a pretty good job with it. For these experiments we must measure the radioactivity in hundreds of test tubes, one by one, using a machine called gamma-counter, aka My Preciousssss.

If something happens with My Preciousssss, I am in deep, deep trouble. Unfortunately that is exactly what I faced last year. My beloved gamma-counter died. I suspected a mechanical problem, the chains that move the tubes around were stuck. Our counter is old (built in 1990), no one services it anymore, parts are next to impossible to find.  So the Iron Uptake Chef was left with 180 samples inside the machine. Paralyzed. We considered buying a new machine, but the price tag is painful: about 25K.

In despair, we asked our IT guy to take a look at it. He’s been working in our department for 30 years (!!!), and performs all sorts of miracles in anything involving computers and beyond. Gamma-counters go beyond the definition of beyond, but… he said he would take a look at it. Yes, it was a mechanical problem, and he thought that replacing one component that rotates a big handle inside the machine could be the key to solve it. He took the part out, searched for it on ebay, and found something that seemed to be a good replacement. A few more days went by, the radioactivity in my samples decaying at the same rate my hyperventilation was increasing.  When we finally got the part, the dimension of one metal component was too big, it would not fit in the little space available for it. Undeterred, our guru got a special saw and “trimmed” the part to fit. He worked a whole weekend on it, and by Monday morning my Preciousss was in top shape, and my experiment saved!

So how do you even begin to say thank you for someone who went not just the extra mile, but what it amounts to a full marathon for you?  I asked him what was his favorite cake, and promised I would bake him one. As he considered all the possibilities, I started to shake inside, fearing the worst. What have I just done? Have I set myself to calamitous trouble? Could he possibly pick a Gateau Saint-Honore’? A Sacher Torte, perhaps? Well, it was challenge enough for this Iron Woman. Stay tuned for the outcome…

(to be continued….)

 

 

 

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SOMEONE TURNS 70 TODAY!

This post is dedicated to my sister Norma, so my apologies to those who cannot read Portuguese…

Norma, holding her younger sister (yours truly).

Ser a irmã caçula – e caçula de verdade, 16 e 12 anos mais nova que as primeironas – e’ uma experiência interessante. Meio como ser filha única, mas não exatamente.  Irmãos separados por dois, tres, quatro anos, tendem a interagir de uma forma mais egalitária. Brincam juntos, aprendem juntos, brigam, se batem (principalmente se meninos), mas com a diferença grande de idade, tudo muda. Quando eu era criança, minhas irmãs eram adolescentes. Eu as olhava com uma certa admiracão velada, quando se aprontavam para sair, se analisavam no espelho, arrumando o cabelo, a maquiagem, escolhendo a roupa. Eu imaginava como deveriam estar se divertindo longe de casa, e que um dia quem sabe seria a minha vez. Quando eu tinha 10 anos elas se casaram e  minha vida mudou drásticamente, creio que ate’ aquele momento eu não sabia que fariam tanta falta.  Mas, tem coisas que a gente não pode mesmo antecipar.

Anos e anos se passaram e hoje minha ‘irmãzinha do meio” completa setenta anos de vida! Não estou la’ para comemorar, mas divido tres lembranças que por um motivo ou outro ficaram solidificadas na minha memória. A primeira, foi sentar com ela e folhear um caderno de desenho que ela tinha, feito para alguma matéria na escola, sei la’ o que seria. Aula de Desenho? Naquela época talvez existisse. Era uma coisa mais linda do que a outra, desenhos perfeitos, a lápis, alguns tinham um formato geométrico, outros eram desenhos de pessoas, rostos, e eu fecho os olhos ainda hoje e re-visito aquela mesma fascinação que senti. Minha irmã, uma artista!  Para mim, melhor do que Michelangelo…

Segunda memória. Um grupo de amigos e amigas das minhas irmãs estavam em casa e eu, como a caçulinha, rondando, tentando não me fazer muito evidente, para não correr o risco de ser mandada embora do grupo dos “adultos.”  Norma de repente comeca a cantar uma canção em italiano, francamente nao me lembro mais qual, mas era uma música famosa no Brasil naqueles tempos. A voz dela, lindíssima, clara, magnífica. O mundo silenciou, saboreando a beleza acústica de um momento especial. Pensar que quando eu canto os cães saem da sala… pode haver tanta injustiça em um único pool genético?

Terceira memória. Essa a mais especial. Tenho certeza que ela não faz ideia. Nas minhas décadas de vida, se eu tivesse que escolher cinco dias como os mais especiais da minha vida, esse seria um deles. Os detalhes são um pouco nebulosos. Por algum motivo eu não tinha ido para a escola e Norma, tambem por algum motivos inusitado, estava em casa. Naquela tarde, ela brincou comigo da hora do almoco ate’ a hora do jantar. Eu lembro que ela inventou a brincadeira toda, eu tinha umas garrafinhas coloridas de plástico, imitando garrafinhas de boliche, e eram parte da brincadeira. Não lembro mais grande coisa, so’ a sensação deliciosa de estar vivendo um dia especial. E lembro também que quando o dia acabou eu fiquei muito triste. Eu temia que nunca houvesse outro igual. De fato, não houve. Mas o que importa e’ que esse um valeu por milhares. Ainda que eu tenha levado mais de 40 anos para dividir essa lembrança com ela, antes tarde do que nunca….  Tagradecida!

FELIZ ANIVERSARIO PARA ALGUEM MUITO ESPECIAL QUE MORA DO LADO ESQUERDO DO MEU PEITO!

 

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SAD TIMES

I really love this picture, taken many years ago. The last visit to my home country when Mom and Dad were still reasonably healthy and happy. Since that picture was taken, my Dad has left us in a shocking, unexpected departure. He probably never even realized he was leaving us. I was not able to arrive for the funeral, something that haunts me still. Now, on May 18th, one day after she and my Dad would celebrate 74 years of marriage, my Mom passed away. The worst nightmares for those who immigrate leaving behind their whole family, are moments like this. Am I going to arrive in time to say goodbye? But that’s such a small component of it. The whole guilty feeling of being away and unable to help your family, that is like a sleeping monster that wakes up and shows its sharp teeth in these incredibly sad times. However, I am trying to focus on the fact that I was able to see her while she was still conscious, and that she was so happy to see me… 

I am not religious. I am atheist and agnostic. Still I feel they are together now, not for some type of eternal after life, but because in my mind they are in the same spot. A bittersweet spot, in which only memories sooth the pain of their absence. 

I am grateful for everything they both did for me. And for the wonderful family they built together. 

Life goes on…

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