The Saturday Update: Week 2, 2021

Wow, already half done with the month. The weather has been pretty mild here and I took advantage of it to run errands and get more cleaning done. I turned in my DNA sample to 23andMe for their systemic sclerosis research project and spent a few hours answering their endless data collection surveys. I signed up to get the Covid-19 vaccine (yay!!) only to learn the next day that the government had lied to my state and the vaccine was NOT coming after all. UGH!!!! Hannah and I worked for a few hours on the quilt for my son; this is slow going as she seems to feel like this quilt is a new toy for her. I also really buckled down on The Secret Life of Cats (and dogz) to get that shawl done by the end of the week, and Hannah really outdid herself with feline support on that one, too.

So that was the week. In the background there was a lot of drama in the news this week which helped me get the knitting done while watching the impeachment debates and votes. Okay, we are getting close to pegging the stress dial for many folks; if this was a thriller novel it would be kind of into ridiculous territory about now. We still have an out of control pandemic, there was an attempted coup instigated by president, the president was almost immediately kicked off all media platforms and impeached, more violence is expected in the coming week so there are national guardsmen sleeping on the national capitol floors, there is no national stockpile of the vaccine, and the polar vortex is misbehaving again. AGGHHH!!! There, I don’t know about you, but I feel better. Having yarn and a kitten helps too.

Let’s just spend the rest of this post chatting about knitting, okay?

I cast off The Secret Life of Cats (and dogz) tonight. This baby is really huge, full of texture and lots of color; I almost hate to block it because it will grow even larger then…

The Secret Life is an advent shawl that was designed to be knitted one day/clue at a time starting December 1st and ending on Christmas. It was made to accommodate the advent knitting kits that many Indie Dyers put out, but since I didn’t have one of those I used 4 skeins of yarn from the stash. I like this shawl, but for the last couple of days I have been dreaming of making another one in the greys and plums of my new Christmas yarn. Hannah and I have already been digging around putting together yarn for the new shawl. I can use 4 skeins again, but I also have lots and lots of small amounts of yarn and it is tempting to put together a set of 25 colors. Lots of stash digging will be going on to make that happen…

I also got silly and bought more yarn. It’s not all weakness of character… the government sent me a stimulus check and I decided to stimulate the economy by buying yarn!! That’s why there are online yarn stores, right? I’m such a good Loopy Ewe customer they are now sending me free yarn along with what I’ve purchased. 🙂 I have long been a fan of Jennifer Steingass sweater patterns, but I have never knitted one before. This month I snapped and bought the yarn to make two more sweaters which means I now have three different Jennifer Steingass sweaters lined up. I guess that is my sweater resolution for the year.

I loved the Goldenfern pattern the minute I saw it, and I have been hunting down yarn to make a Goldwing for a couple of months. I also have the yarn wound up to make Solvi (that is the off black yarn and the pink) and I will be casting it on this week… really, really I will. I want all three of the sweaters right now which means it is going to be hard to ignore the ones waiting on the back burner as I knit. Time to knit fast!!

Hannah just loves to help with winding yarn!

The only other knitting that is going on now is that I did cast on a pair of socks to work on late at night while listening to my audiobooks and they are moving right along.

This is a chunk of the leg of the sock showing off the stitches. What, you are having trouble making them out? Note to self: solid colors show off details better then heavily speckled yarns.

I love the socks and I think that when I’m wearing them and the stitches are stretched out the pattern details will show up better. If they don’t, I will have to make another pain in a solid yarn, so there! These are Geology Socks and the Uschitita yarn is called Cloud Atlas.

Oh… I almost forgot! In my family we are a bunch of Star Wars fans, and perhaps the biggest one of all is my exceptionally knitworthy niece. She just loves The Mandalorian. Like a lot. She has a Child softie that gets posed in the best of places. Like at Starbucks. Or by her car…

That yarn is to make her a pair of fingerless mitts featuring Mando and the Child from the show The Mandalorian and they will be cast on as soon as the socks are off the needles. Or maybe sooner. It is the way.

Have a great week, everyone!!

Please stay safe.

Read a little, knit a little, and garden like your heart can’t live without it.

And wear your mask!!

The Saturday Update: Week 1, 2021

Well, this was an exhausting and fraught week, wasn’t it. I mean, I struggled to knit the week was so bad, and then if that wasn’t enough I logged some personal drama myself. As in…

Yesterday I couldn’t walk on my excessively ill-behaved legs!! I hit bottom after a couple of days of noticing that I was having more breathing issues and sporting blue lips again. What is up with this, 2021? Did 2020 leave you some type of User’s Manual? Just drop that sh*t in the nearest trash can and behave yourself!!

In a normal year I would have called for help and gotten myself into a medical center, but in this year I stayed in bed on oxygen, drugged up, and snacked on the crackers and bai drinks that I keep upstairs. It’s got to be inflammation, I told myself, so I’ll just sleep this off. Yep. Today I’m up and managing like nothing happened. I blame the weather… I absolutely blame 2020 for lingering bad vibes… I blame too many trips in and out of the cold garage…

Look at what is happening in my indoor garden! The new monster orchid has recovered from its trip through the mail and is now looking pretty darn good.

No week or year can be absolutely bad, right?! There was also lots to be happy about. I had great packages on the way to me (squishy mail and the 23andMe DNA kit from my last post), a flourishing indoor garden, two really engaging books to read, and my goodness (!!) the Secret Life of Cats (and dogz) shawl is about as cheerful as a piece of knitted work can be. I’m still thinking about my resolutions for this year (but getting my Covid-19 vaccine is at the top of the list), so I’m just going to ignore all the newsworthy events of the week and jump to what was up at home.

Knitting

I have ONLY ONE knitting project going on at the moment, but it is a doozy. Look at this explosion of color wonderfulness!

I’m now passing the halfway mark. This baby is going to be huge, but wonderful. I wear a lot of black so this will absolutely brighten things up when I wear it.

I totally lost control and ordered yarn for myself last week and I’m practically dying with the need to cast on more projects. Maybe just a little pair of socks? I know that I need to stay away from sweaters, but wouldn’t a cowl be a nice little things to have stuffed into a project bag… I have new yarns with names like “Naughty Chair” and “Troublemaker” that are insisting that I should cast them onto needles as soon as possible. Little projects like that are easier to manage when staying in bed all day with a cat sleeping on you… Do it! Do it! Do it! the yarns chant from the yarn stash…

Garden

Hannah has been spending a lot of time in the indoor garden, and I have to admit that it seems to be doing well even with her knocking plants over and using some of them as toys.

Hannah especially likes the owl in the garden that is supposed to be watching over her… yeah. I had to evacuate the owl to a safe location this afternoon. Several of the jade plants have been staked this week to help prop up the branches that Hannah has shoved over. I think that the problem is that Hannah is growing quickly and spaces that she previously moved through easily are now too small for her so… plants get knocked around, lamps knocked down, and worst of all, she misses some jumps and falls off of ledges that she used to have no problems with. Suddenly that little window sill isn’t quite big enough! Anyway, back to the garden. One of the orchids is blooming and another is putting out a stem, so the winter is cheerier than I first expected. The African violets are still putting out lots of new buds, so the craft room, where the garden is, is currently my happy place.

Books

I started two new books this week and am still reading them, but both have completely captured my attention and I’m planning on finishing at least one of them before the weekend is over.

I’ve been caught up in The Huntress and really enjoying it but yesterday in bed called for an audiobook so I started the second book, To Sleep in a Sea of Stars. Now I have a real conflict as I like the Paolini book so much I want to cast on a new knitting project and just listen to it, but the Kate Quinn book is also excellent and I am so close to finishing it I should buckle down and just finish it off… but I can’t knit as easily while reading a paper book. Life is full of these trade offs. Obviously I should finish the paper book as fast as I can so that I can cast on a pair of socks… in blue yarn… with gold sprinkles… the name of the yarn is “Cloud Atlas” which would be nice to knit while in a sea of stars, don’t you think? That’s the plan.

“Naughty Chair” and “Troublemaker”, don’t worry. I haven’t forgotten about you. I happen to have 3 little project bags and lots of needles!

Have a great week, everyone!!

Please stay safe.

Read a little, knit a little, and garden like your heart can’t live without it.

And wear your mask!!

Footnotes:

  • “Naughty Chair” and “Troublemaker” are produced by Hue Loco.
  • “Cloud Atlas” is produced by Uschitita Fiber Art.
  • I was officially accepted into the Systemic Sclerosis Study being conducted by 23andMe this week and they have mailed the DNA collection kit to me.
  • I have stockpiled the yarn to make three new sweaters!! They should make it harder to buy yarn online, don’t you think?

The Scleroderma Chronicles: Coming Full Circle

Systemic Sclerosis is a rare, chronic, progressive, and incurable autoimmune disease that is included in the family of rheumatic conditions. It is characterized by blood vessel damage and the scarring and thickening of skin due to excessive collagen production (fibrosis). The internal organs can also be damaged by inflammation and scarring: the digestive tract, heart, kidneys, and lungs.

There are two main types of systemic sclerosis: diffuse and limited.

I was diagnosed with limited systemic sclerosis 6 years ago.

Hannah: Do you like my circle?

The Circle Starts: In high school I developed a mystery illness that involved intense itching, lots of rashes, sensitivity to sunlight, and swollen digits. I was a mess. It went on for a few years and then the worse of the symptoms faded away.

First Quarter Circle: In my mid twenties I was a researcher working on a scleroderma project for the Division of Rheumatology at the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center in Denver, Colorado. The principal investigator that I worked for was interested in isolating the targets of the autoantibodies that scleroderma patients made; if we found the actual proteins that the antibodies characteristic of this autoimmune rheumatic disease were targeting we would be closer to understanding what they did, and eventually closer to understand the disease process of scleroderma. Let me be clear here: my boss, Dr. Angeline Douvas, was the brains of this little research outfit and I did most of the bench work.

One morning Angie had the hot idea that we should see what happened if we did an anti-nuclear antibody (ANA) test on the polytene chromosomes of the fruit fly Drosophila, a common lab experimental animal. We knew that the antibodies produced by the scleroderma patients were sticking to the chromosomes in the nucleus of cells… what would it look like if we checked this test on the chromosomes of fruit flies which were enormous structures that were easy to look at under the microscope?

After staining we could see that on the entire chromosome a few distinct bands were stained: only a few genes were targeted by the antibodies of the scleroderma patients. What was the function of the genes, and what were those proteins, the clear targets of the antibodies made by these scleroderma patients, doing? Something important that was linked to this disease that we call systemic sclerosis (scleroderma). How was all of that tied to the damaging fibrosis going on in these patients?

Here’s the other interesting conundrum that we kicked around: what changed in these genes/proteins that made them trigger the immune system to make antibodies? There are lots of things that can change genes and the proteins that they make. Things like radiation, chemicals, environmental triggers, viruses…

Hannah: Viruses?! The Kitten Mom and I spend all our time at home hiding from viruses!!!

Second Quarter Circle: Now in my 60s, and diagnosed as a scleroderma patient myself, I began writing letters to my congressman asking him to support the National Commission on Scleroderma and Fibrotic Diseases Act, a bill which would coordinate and organize resources to study the process that is involved in the formation of scar tissue in scleroderma and other diseases/conditions. Two summers ago I met with a representative of my congressman, Jason Crow, with other scleroderma patients to make our case. Scleroderma is special, I argued, because our antibodies are a tool that can be used to unpack the process of fibrosis. Representative Crow did support the bill.

Hannah: Now, are you ready for some really crazy stuff? Hang onto your catnip mice, this gets a little wild!!

Third Quarter Circle: It is 2020 and Covid-19 has arrived. Early on we learned that this is a serious virus that causes an extreme immune system response in some individuals that is life threatening. There is severe lung involvement, blood clots, scarred lungs, injured hearts, failing kidneys… this is no joke if you are already dealing with all of this, so I and other scleroderma patients are avoiding it like the plague and retreating to our online support groups even more than usual. We share observations and experiences in these forums, and it wasn’t very long before we started to notice that these severe Covid-19 cases seemed to be awfully similar to severe systemic sclerosis. We laughed about “Covid Toes” since dealing with blue fingers and toes is a daily struggle for us. Then the news reports about Covid-19 long-haulers started to emerge, and we all started to say to each other… wow… fatigue, brain fog, muscle/joint pains, lung and heart problems… sounds a lot like what we deal with… Then some people started to arrive in our support groups who were newly diagnosed scleroderma patients who were also Covid-19 long haulers. Now every week new people, shocked and frightened by their life-altering diagnosis of systemic sclerosis, are showing up in our forums. “Gee, there are a lot of new patients arriving,” someone wrote last week…

Unbelievable, right? I decided to hunt around online and quickly found that there were a number of reports about Covid-19 and systemic sclerosis. I discovered to my shock that people with severe Covid-19 disease do share a lot of documented clinical features with severely ill diffuse systemic sclerosis patients, and there is a connection between Covid-19 and rheumatic autoimmune diseases. When there was an article in the New York Times reporting that some Covid patients were developing autoimmune disease it caught my eye, so a little more work online found this nicely written overview by the Global Autoimmune Institute that listed specific research reports and the autoantibodies being discovered in Covid-19 patients and Covid-19 long-haulers. There in the reports are listed the same, exact autoantibodies that are the specific hallmarks of my two autoimmune diseases, systemic sclerosis and Sjogren’s Disease. 2020, shame on you. This is really, really bad, even for you.

All of a sudden it is really important to understand fibrotic diseases and how to reverse the damage caused by Covid-19.

Hannah: The Kitten Mom feels like she needs to do something about this!!

The Circle Closes: The genome sequencing service 23andMe has launched a genetic research study of systemic sclerosis patients. They are screening and accepting 1000 diagnosed patients who will donate their DNA for research into systemic sclerosis. I’m pretty sure that this effort to collect more information about the genes of systemic sclerosis patients is in part driven by the urgent need to deal with an emerging flood of new patients with fibrotic organ damage due to Covid-19 infections. Tonight I completed my application to submit my DNA to the study and to participate in all their additional data collection about my disease. Remember those few, distinct genes lit up on the fly chromosome? “Go get ’em, boys!” I muttered to myself as I clicked the submit button.

Today there were 225,558 new cases of Covid-19 in the US and 3,499 new deaths.

How many of the Covid-19 survivors will eventually be dealing with a chronic, progressive, and incurable autoimmune disease?

Wear your masks, people!!

Wednesday Afternoon Update: I’ve been accepted into the research program and they have already shipped my DNA collection kit to me. Hannah is so excited!!

Footnote: Did Angie and I find a protein using the scleroderma patients antibodies? Yep. We did.