Thankful for a root canal?

“Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

1 Thessalonians 5:8 is a scripture passage that can be very easily misunderstood. There are many things in life that I am not thankful for. Fortunately, I’m not told to be thankful for every situation, but rather in every situation. In even the most difficult circumstances of life, we can find things to be thankful for, whether it be the resources to handle the crisis or the support of family and friends through it.

That being said, I am actually thankful that early Monday morning I’m going to be having a root canal! How can that be? Thankful for a root canal? Am I crazy?

No, I would rather not have to have a root canal, but considering the other possibilities that crossed my mind after I discovered a lump on my gum a few weeks ago, I’m quite delighted that the problem is only an abscessed tooth and that the solution is as common as a root canal. You see, this is something that happens to ordinary mortals, not just cancer patients!

So, yes, as crazy as it sounds, I’m thankful for a root canal!

It isn’t going to be a simple procedure which is why it’s being done by an endodontist, a root canal specialist. The roots of this particular tooth are fused together. Apparently that’s not terribly uncommon, but it can make the procedure more complicated and it’s something my own dentist didn’t feel comfortable tackling. In spite of that, I’m still feeling


Have you ever been thankful for something as crazy as a root canal?


What to do when life seems overwhelming

What do you do when life seems overwhelming?


Recent circumstances have resulted in us leaving the church that was our strong support system for many years. We’re living in the midst of a home renovation project gone very wrong and trying to figure out how to deal with that. I’m off to the city early next week to see a specialist about a lump growing on my gums that my dentist hasn’t been able to find the cause of. We’re moving into the busiest season of the year for me in one of the volunteer positions that I hold. And to top it off, we seem to be living through the winter that will never end.

You’ve probably lived through similar seasons. Maybe you’re there right now. You may be dealing with an enormous stressor such as job loss or the death of a loved one or it might simply be an accumulation of smaller aggravations that have left you feeling completely swamped.

So what should we do when life leaves us feeling like we’ve reached the end of our rope?

If you’re a young parent, you probably feel this way a lot of the time and with very good reason! I asked my daughter what her advice would be and her reply was, “In my case the answer is don’t bite off more than you can chew!” That’s good advice for all of us. Sometimes we’re the cause of our own stressful predicaments. We simply take on more than we can handle. None of us has an infinite amount of time available, so perhaps in those cases the answer is learning to prioritize, learning better time management skills, or simply learning to say No!

But what can we do when we’re overwhelmed by circumstances that are beyond our control? I’m reminded of a dear friend who often asks, “In the light of eternity, does this really matter?” Sometimes we need to take a step back and look at the situation from a wider perspective. Yes, the new ceiling surface that was applied throughout the main floor of our house on Saturday is a superb example of shoddy workmanship and will have to be redone. We’re not sure how or when that’s going to happen. As stressful and aggravating as that is, it isn’t life threatening and years down the road, it won’t seem as big a deal as it does right now.

The lump on my gum, however, could be a big deal. When you’re a cancer patient, any inexplicable lump or bump is reason for concern, but the same wise friend once reminded me that 99% of the things we worry about never come to pass and all the worrying in the world won’t prevent the other 1%.

Whether we’re overwhelmed by the busyness of life, legitimate concerns, or distressing circumstances that are not of our own making, there are things we can do to help alleviate stress when it threatens to overcome us. What works for me, might not necessarily work for you, but here are a few suggestions to try.

  1. Focus on getting through one day or even one hour at a time. Matthew 6:34 gives this wise advice, “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
  2. Don’t skip meals. When I’m severely stressed my appetite is the first to go, but our bodies need fuel. Eat regularly to avoid low blood sugar, fatigue, and brain fog.
  3. Drink a cup of tea. My automatic response to crisis situations has long been to brew a pot of tea, but now studies conducted in the UK have actually shown that drinking a single cup of tea can significantly reduce anxiety levels after suffering a stressful experience.
  4. Escape. Go for a walk or a drive in the country, lose yourself in a good book, get out of the office over your lunch hour. Do whatever it takes to get away from the stressful situation even for a short time.
  5. Exercise. According to experts at the Mayo Clinic, exercise in almost any form acts as a stress reliever, providing a distraction from worry and boosting the production of endorphins, the brain’s feel-good neurotransmitters.
  6. Pray. Prayer is an age old stress reliever that doesn’t require a prescription! Taking a few quiet moments to pray can help you gain perspective and find peace in the midst of turmoil. When the situation is so overwhelming that you can’t even find the words to pray, remember that Romans 8:26 tells us that “We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.
  7. Soak in a hot bath. Add a few drops of lavender oil which is commonly known for its relaxing effects on the body.
  8. Sleep. It may be difficult to quiet your mind enough to get to sleep when life seems overwhelming, but getting a good night’s rest should be a priority. A cup of chamomile tea half an hour before bedtime is widely regarded as a mild tranquilizer and sleep-inducer. Lavender oil can also be helpful here. Rub 2 or 3 drops on the palms of your hands and inhale deeply then wipe your palms on your pillow to leave a hint of lavender there.
  9. Don’t try to handle everything on your own. Delegate, ask for help, share your struggles. When stress doesn’t go away, and you’ve tried your best to manage it, you may need talk to a doctor or mental health professional about it. There’s absolutely no shame in that.

Great news!

Just a quick update concerning my health. As many of you know, I live with NETS, a little known and incurable cancer. I’ve been waiting all week for the phone to ring with the results of routine CT scans done early last week. I wasn’t anticipating bad news, but I do live with the reality that it could come at any time. Thankfully, today wasn’t that day!

Today, the news was good! Almost four and a half years after diagnosis, my disease continues to be stable with no sign of growth or spread.

Today I also learned that my last two 5H1AA tests have been normal! What does that mean, you ask. While the injection that a nurse comes to the house to give me once a month and the radioactive treatments that I receive twice a year aren’t expected to lead to a complete cure, the hope was that they would render my tumours inactive or dormant. Neuroendocrine tumours (NETS) produce and release excess amounts of hormones, particularly serotonin. 5HIAA is a 24 hour urine test that measures the amount of 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid, a product of serotonin, found in the body. The normal test results show that my tumours are no longer active; no longer producing serotonin. It’s the serotonin that can cause symptoms including abdominal pain and cramping, diarrhea, joint pain, wheezing, fatigue and flushing of the skin. Because my levels have now been normal for several months, I was told today that I probably won’t have to repeat the 5H1AA test again unless I begin to experience symptoms again! That’s great news as it involves 3 days of dietary restrictions prior to the test and then 24 hours of collecting urine which can be quite a nuisance.

I’ll have my next treatment on May 23. Until then, with the exception of my monthly injections, I can forget about having cancer and get on with the business of living!


If you’re curious about why the zebra is the symbol of neuroendocrine cancer, check here or here.

Ten years of blogging!

Ten years ago today I published my very first blog post! It was also the shortest post I’ve ever written and the message was very simple:

Richard and I have just accepted positions teaching conversational English in Japan. This is a one year commitment and we’ll be leaving in mid March. The main purpose of this blog is to share our adventure with friends, family and anyone else who’s interested.

Little did I expect to still be blogging ten years later! I anticipated that Following Augustine would only exist for the year that we would be in Asia. In fact, that’s why I chose the title. Augustine BeArce, a Romany Gypsy, was the first of my ancestors to cross the Atlantic Ocean from Europe and make his home in North America. 370 years later when I crossed the Pacific Ocean and settled for a time on the far side of the sea, it only seemed right to give credit to Augustine and the Gypsy blood that I inherited from him!

I’ve always been passionate about writing though and by the time our year in Japan came to an end, I knew that blogging was something I would continue to do indefinitely. What I didn’t know was what it would look like once I was no longer living in a foreign land. For lack of a better definition, I now refer to Following Augustine as a lifestyle, travel, and fashion blog, but one of my readers once called it a great advertisement for retirement!

Over the past decade, life has taken many unusual turns, some delightful and others deeply distressing. Following Augustine has been there through all the ups and downs.

We love to travel and the blog has recorded trips across Canada, into the United States, and to numerous other countries. Never in my wildest dreams did I ever expect to live in the People’s Republic of China though, but our five months there gave me plenty to write about. China’s internet censorship made it a bit more challenging to post from there, but thankfully, with the help of WordPress, I discovered a way to successfully break through or over the “Great Firewall” and continue blogging.

Cancer was never part of my plan either, but when it struck, the blog became a good way to process what was happening and to share it with friends and family. I’ve also used it as a way to raise awareness of NETS (neuroendocrine tumours), the little-known and often misdiagnosed cancer that I continue to deal with. My life is not all about my health, however, so neither is the blog. It’s about living life to the fullest in spite of all its challenges.

A couple of years ago, I became interested in fashion blogging and so the weekly Fashion Friday feature was born, not as a “look what I’m wearing today” narcissistic sort of thing, but as a way to connect with other women and to explore how the ways in which we present ourselves affect our lives. It has had the added benefit of ensuring that I write something at least once a week.

I am a Christ follower and I have fairly strong and not always popular or politically correct opinions on certain issues. I haven’t shied away from sharing those on the blog, but I’m committed to doing so with as much wisdom as God allows me, with integrity and with respect for those whose opinions differ from mine.

When I published that first post ten years ago, our daughter was expecting our first grandchild, so over the years five little people have appeared on the blog from time to time. I’m off to visit three of them this weekend and the other two for Christmas, so it’s possible that they might show up again soon!

What does the future hold for Following Augustine? I have no idea, but I’ve now written 882 posts and I don’t see them coming to an end anytime soon!


On being radioactive

10991307_10153055708750915_6654881605691342497_nThough we often laugh and joke about it, there’s nothing fun about being radioactive two weeks out of every year. I don’t glow in the dark and I don’t have any special powers. I simply feel tired and have to limit the time I spend in close contact with other people. It’s not that bad really, but when I sit alone and watch Sunday morning’s sermon online and when my husband is out at a social event while I’m at home alone, it’s easy to start feeling a bit sorry for myself.

People often compliment me on my positive attitude and I think they’re right that it has a lot to do with how well my cancer battle is going, but there are moments when it’s hard to remain positive, when I’m tempted to invite myself to a private pity party.

For those who are new to my blog, I have neuroendocrine tumours (NETS), a little-known cancer that is often quite advanced at diagnosis due to the fact that its most common symptoms are very similar to more common ailments such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Crohn’s disease, lactose intolerance, asthma, and even menopause. Though it’s incurable, it is slow-growing and often treatable. I have the good fortune to live 2.5 hours by car from a state of the art treatment centre, one of the very few in North America that offer the latest and best treatment available for this type of cancer.

At this point, I am treated with radioisotope therapy once every six months. This involves an overnight stay at the cancer clinic followed by a week of semi-isolation at home. During that week I have to have my own bedroom and my own bathroom and I have to limit my contact with other people because I’m highly radioactive. I pose an especially high risk to pregnant women and children under the age of 12.

I had my most recent treatment on Wednesday. Scans the following morning showed that my condition continues to be stable. My cancer has not grown or spread. That’s exceptionally good news and when I start to feel sorry for myself, I have to remind myself of that!

The first couple of days of radioactivity aren’t bad. I spend a lot of time in the armchair in the corner of our guest room (which becomes my room for the week) or curled up on the love seat in my den. I’ve read almost two books in the past few days and drank copious cups of tea. By today, however, I’m beginning to miss human contact and I’m itching to be set free!

I did go for a short walk this afternoon. It’s a gloomy, grey Sunday afternoon in our very small town and the temperature is -5ºC (23ºF). Two vehicles went by, one at a distance and the other close enough for the driver to wave. Other than that, I didn’t see a single soul. Definitely no danger of radiating anyone! I could hear traffic out on the highway, my own feet crunching on the snow, and the occasional winter bird in the trees. It didn’t do a great deal to lift my spirits, but I’m sure the fresh air and exercise were good for me.

When I start feeling a little mopey, perhaps it’s a good idea to once again remind myself of the things that cancer cannot do.

What Cancer Cannot Do

Cancer is so limited…

It cannot cripple LOVE

It cannot shatter HOPE

It cannot corrode FAITH

It cannot destroy PEACE

It cannot kill FRIENDSHIP

It cannot suppress MEMORIES

It cannot silence COURAGE

It cannot invade the SOUL

It cannot steal ETERNAL LIFE

It cannot conquer THE SPIRIT

Author Unknown

It may leave me radioactive for a little while and feeling a bit sorry for myself. It may even eventually destroy my body, but as the poem says, it cannot conquer MY SPIRIT! 

As the old saying goes, “This too shall pass!” Two more days and I’ll be free again!

NET Cancer Day 2017

Net Cancer DayMy weekly Fashion Friday feature is taking a break today as I have something much more important to share. November 10 is World NET Cancer Day, a day set aside to raise awareness of neuroendocrine cancer, the disease that I’ve been fighting since 2013. Those of us who have been affected by NETS (neuroendocrine tumours) hope that for today our voices will rise above those of all the more well-known and prominent diagnoses. Today is our day to be heard by decision makers, health professionals and the general public. In addition to raising awareness, we want to encourage more funds for research, treatments, and patient support; and to advocate for equal access to care and treatment for NETS patients around the world.

So as not to disappoint those of you who came looking for a fashion post, here’s what I’m wearing today… my CNETS Canada t-shirt. I don’t usually wear graphic tees, but the message on this one is a vital one.


If you don’t suspect it, you can’t detect it. 

So what’s with the zebras? Medical students are taught when hearing hoofbeats, to think of horses, not zebras. Neuroendocrine tumours are difficult to diagnose. Though they are the fastest growing class of cancers worldwide, their symptoms are usually vague and similar to more common health problems.  Many family doctors have never encountered a NETS patient. When presented with symptoms like stomach pain and diarrhea, they naturally think of things like Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Crohn’s Disease or lactose intolerance. They think of horses, not zebras. Hence, the zebra became our symbol.

As with all cancers, early diagnosis is important. Sadly it doesn’t happen often. If the initial tumour is found before any secondary growths occur, it can often be removed surgically and the patient is considered cured. Once it has spread, however, the disease is incurable.

NETS arises from neuroendocrine cells which can be found anywhere in the body. The most common types are found in the lungs, bronchi, thymus, pituitary, thyroid, adrenal glands, intestines, pancreas, appendix, and rectum. They may also occur in other areas including the ovaries, cervix, testicles, and spleen. NETS is a slow growing cancer that is often misdiagnosed. By the time a correct diagnosis is made, the cancer has often spread. In fact, 60 to 80% of NET cancer patients are diagnosed with advanced disease.

My primary tumour was in my colon. At the time of diagnosis, I also had three tumours on my liver and one in a lymph node. It was estimated that I had already had the disease for ten years when it was detected quite by accident! Off and on for at least seven or eight years I had been experiencing most of the common symptoms which include abdominal cramps, diarrhea, flushing of the skin, pounding of the heart, and wheezing or shortness of breath. Neither I nor my family doctor had any idea why.

Today coffee shops across Canada and around the world, including The Wooden Spoon here in Sedgewick, will be raising awareness about NETS by using special coffee cups bearing the slogan “Lets talk about NETS” and handing out promotional material to help educate their customers about the disease.


What can you do to help? You can help us spread awareness by simply reposting this on your blog if you have one or posting a link to it on your Facebook page. Thank you so much!



Good news!!

Good news

Four years post diagnosis, there are times when I almost forget that I have an incurable cancer. It’s no longer the first thing I think of when I wake up every morning and I’m sure there are days when it doesn’t even cross my mind.

Then there are days like today; days when it jumps to the forefront again. This morning started with CT scans of my head, neck, chest, and abdomen. Several hours later, we sat down with my doctor to discuss the results. I had no reason to anticipate bad news, but we’re fully aware that at any time the treatment could stop working. New growths could appear or tumours that have shrunk could start growing again. Someday, we probably will receive that kind of news, but not today!

Today, my doctor called me a “poster child” for the PRRT treatment protocol that I’ve been on since September 2014. He’s as delighted as we are with how well it’s been working for me. The largest tumour on my liver is noticeably smaller today than it was six months ago. The other remaining tumours appear unchanged and there are no new growths!

Quality of life is an important factor in cancer treatment and Dr. MacEwan is always delighted to hear that mine continues to be superb. It’s only days like this one that remind me that I have cancer! The rest of the time I’m busy living life to the fullest and with utmost gratitude to my amazing medical team, my many faithful praying friends, and the God who promised to take care of me on this journey.