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SMH’s Own Megan Ripley, RN Shares Her Journey of Wellness & Diabetes

Megan Ripley, RN, Chemotherapy/Infusion Nurse, Welch Cancer Center Sheridan Memorial Hospital
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Diabetes is different for everyone, at every age. As we celebrate National Diabetes Awareness Month, SMH focuses on the impacts diabetes has on one’s life and the challenges faced. Meet our own smiley, sweet Megan Ripley who works as a Chemo Nurse at Welch Cancer Center. Megan shared with us her Wellness Journey, with Diabetes, and we find it an important one to share with all of you as we navigate this month, together.

While many of us prepare for cranberry sauce, sweet potatoes, and copious amounts of pie, one-third of the US populations is concerned with managing their blood sugar while still enjoying their meal. With much to be grateful for this time of year, we take a moment to appreciate the stories and knowledge surrounding the staff at Sheridan Memorial Hospital. This Diabetes Awareness month, we are excited to share with you how one of our own employees faces and maintains her wellness while facing the everyday realities of Type 1 Diabetes.  Megan Ripley is an employee who has not only pursued wellness as a hobby, but has adopted it as her way of life. Even though she has to navigate through obstacles every day, from constantly maintaining healthy blood sugar levels to the everyday challenges of being a Chemo Registered Nurse, Megan strives to maintain her health and she does it all with a beaming smile on her face.

Megan Smith’s journey towards wellness started at the early age of 9, when she was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. Type 1 Diabetes is a chronic condition in which the pancreas produces little or no insulin, a hormone needed to allow sugar to enter cells in order to produce energy. At the discovery of her condition, she feared how diabetes might affect her everyday life. Megan often wondered about what restrictions she would have to implement into her daily routine, or what opportunities she might miss out on because of her condition. However, Megan was fortunate enough to grow up just outside of Cheyenne during her early childhood and because of this, she was able to attend the Barbara Davis Center for Childhood Diabetes. “The doctors and nurses at the center were great and they always had the most cutting edge technology so I was able to get the best treatment possible” Megan shares. The Barbara Davis Center didn’t just have an impact on Megan’s physical health, but they were also able to provide her with tools to help maintain and enhance her mental health. Megan explained “I always wanted to grow up to become a nurse, but with my diabetes, I didn’t know if that would ever be possible. When the nurses in the center found out this was a fear of mine, many came forward to share with me that they too suffered from diabetes, and they showed me how they navigated throughout their day as a nurse with diabetes. The team showed me that I could still be the person I dreamed of becoming and I really can’t thank them enough for all the help they have given me throughout the years.”

The team at the Barbara Davis Center helped to give Megan the confidence that she could still live the life she wanted, but now she needed to figure out how she was going to balance it all. Megan went to work finding what other methods and tools she could use in her life to stay healthy and happy. One of the struggles that Megan was immediately faced with was what kind of exercise regimens she could use. High Intensity Exercise wasn’t on option because even if Megan liked it in the first place, and she didn’t, it could cause complications with her blood sugar due to Adrenaline production. You see, when Adrenaline (Epinephrine) is released from nerve endings or the Adrenals it acts on the liver, promoting increased sugar production as well as the breakdown and release of fat nutrients which travel to the liver and are converted into sugar and ketones. Simply put, Adrenaline raises blood sugar considerably, which for diabetics such as Megan who can’t naturally produce insulin, can lead to Hyperglycemia, causing damage to the vessels that supply blood to vital organs. So any strenuous exercise that would cause a spike in Adrenaline was unsafe for Megan to participate in. And if that wasn’t a large enough hurdle, Megan also was trying to find a way to manage her diet so that she could still enjoy all the foods she enjoyed so dearly, without causing massive spikes or falls in her blood sugar levels.

Megan was committed to finding a solution. She knew what a great influence exercise and diet would have on her physical and mental state, so she never quit looking for answers. Eventually, she found resolution to her exercise dilemma when she realized just how much she liked doing long-distance, moderately paced cardio. Walking, hiking, and biking were also activities that Megan loved doing because they could be done with others. None of them required going to a gym, none of them would produce adrenaline if paced correctly, and all of them promoted muscle growth and weight loss. As for her diet, Megan discovered portion control, a dieting strategy that she could utilize in order to keep eating her favorite foods, by simply adjusting and managing the portion sizes of her meals throughout the day

Once Megan knew how she was going to balance her exercise and diet, all she had to do was find a way to consistently motivate herself to continue eating healthy and exercising on a regular basis. Her motivation to stick to her diet is basic: “If I eat right and stick to my diet then I can stay healthy, but if I’m not willing to maintain my diet then my physical health will be seriously negatively affected.” Megan’s motivation to exercise is a little less cut and dry. Megan relies, for the most part, on friends and family to help her stay motivated throughout the week. On week days, Megan’s biggest motivator is her Dog Laya who is always eager to remind her about their daily walk together, they rarely miss a day, considering Laya is known to not taking no for an answer. A few days a week Megan also gets the opportunity to go on walks with friends from work, who she also credits as being some of her greatest supporters. On the weekends, Megan is motivated by excitement and adventure with her husband John and of course, Laya. Megan is always eager to plan out her family’s adventures and you can bet they’ll be doing a whole lot of hiking, canoeing, backpacking, or fishing with a whole lot of fruit snacks to keep her fueled. Megan’s most recent adventure sent her on a rigorous 16 mile hike, with almost 2450’ vertical gain to the beautiful and secluded Lake Angeline, high in the Bighorn Mountains.

Megan’s advice to all those who have a desire to get well was this: “Start small and set goals that are attainable, all of us progress at our own rate and your rate is completely unique to you, so don’t compare yourself to anybody but yourself. If you need a donut, then eat a donut, but eat less of something else or just exercise more to compensate for it. It’s all about balance. Do not underestimate the power of thinking positively, mental health is just as important as physical health, and being happy and thinking positively can take you just as far as any workout routine.”

We’re so very proud to see how far Megan has come from where she once was and we can’t to see where she goes. We’d like to thank Megan for her inspiring story and providing such positive insight into living a balanced life with Type 1 Diabetes. We appreciate you leading by example and for showing us all what it really means to take wellness into our own hands. Sheridan Memorial Hospital honored to have you as a member of our staff and we are grateful for everything you have done and continue to do for this hospital. Thank you, Megan.