Managing Diabetes Through College by Tyler Kramer

College can be challenging for many reasons.  From balancing time between classes, reading textbooks, & studying for exams to participating in clubs, sporting events and post morning lecture naps. And of course, trying to have a social life. Adding the rollercoaster ride of type 1 diabetes to your daily college life can bring unwanted frustrations and emotions – plus having to make decisions like whether or not to eat ice cream at the cafe or have a drink from the mystery bowl of punch at a party. So follow me as I take you on my journey of managing my diabetes during 4 unforgettable years of college.

The first thing I did (diabetes related) when I moved in freshman year was to tell my roommate about my type 1 diabetes. Luckily for the both of us, we knew each other, which made the “in case of an emergency” talk a little easier. However, if you don’t know your roommate before move-in, I believe it can only help to tell them about basic symptoms of low-blood sugar.  Most people can handle dialing 911 if needed. I had also asked him to wake me if it looked like I was sleeping too late – which saved me once.  My roommate woke me one morning and I found that my blood sugar reading was 55 (heading down) following a late night.

Sophomore year I moved to an off-campus apartment.  The 45-minute walk to class every other day had my blood sugar acting up.   So I always packed snacks, a juice or even sugar tabs just in case I went low. As my class load got harder and I became more involved in clubs and intermural sports, it was challenging to always sit down and eat a decent meal. My meal plan helped but I also planned my meals ahead of time and packed my lunch when needed because I knew that I would be caught up in class until late afternoon.


By junior year, I would try to wake up earlier to eat a protein and fiber filled breakfast that kept me going through back-to-back lectures. I was playing intermural soccer every semester which helped me get my dose of intense sweat and exercise. I also had smaller classes so I made sure my professors knew about my diabetes just in case I would go low during an exam or if my pump would go off during a lecture.

Finally, senior year – let’s not forget the elephant in the blog: drinking alcohol with type 1 diabetes. I spoke with my doctor about drinking with diabetes all throughout college.  I was also using a continuous glucose monitor which helped me monitor my blood sugars. I found the best practice for me was to eat a meal beforehand, drink lots of water between drinks, keep sugar tabs handy and test before falling asleep.

I wasn’t perfect in managing my diabetes, no one can be, but sometimes being away from the people who have helped me since day 1 was a challenge itself. Throughout college, I met 3 other people living with type 1 diabetes and we would share experiences. However, the best thing I did from the start was to proactively inform my roommates and friends of my diabetes and keep in touch with my healthcare team about my blood sugar numbers.   So even when it seemed like I was the only one battling my blood sugar, I was able to find support while attending college.

As always, since I was diagnosed, I would continue to embrace my situation, educate those around me and not let type 1 diabetes stop me from doing the things I love to do.

NOTE:  This is one person’s personal experience and you should check with your health care provider before choosing to drink alcohol or make changes to your diet, exercise or treatment regimen.


Diabetes Together by Brian Butler

In team sports like football, baseball or basketball or in individual sports like tennis, boxing or golf, every athlete depends on coaches and trainers to support them to reach their fullest potential.

Living with diabetes is no different. We need the support of our healthcare team and an important member of that team for me is my wife, Sheila, who is my care partner.  She shares my good days as well as my bad days. Sheila understands my goals for managing my diabetes and encourages me when my blood sugar numbers are not where I would like them to be.


I was diagnosed with diabetes over 25 years ago and together Sheila and I began our diabetes journey learning what worked best for me. Together we shopped for groceries, read food labels and began understanding the importance of portion control.

Traveling has been a major part of my life, usually with no problem. However recently returning home from a trip we had a short layover and upon de-boarding the plane, I found myself experiencing a low blood sugar.  Luckily for me, my care partner was by my side. Sheila recognized something was off in my walking gait and I was not responding as I normally would. Sheila sat me down to test and then treat my low blood sugar.  Knowing I was not yet 100% and our connecting flight was to begin boarding within the next 45 minutes, Sheila contacted the airlines and was able to change our flight to a later time when she felt more comfortable with us flying.

The importance of having a care partner cannot be stressed enough. Without Sheila, I’m sure the outcome of this trip would have been totally different.  Care partners are an important part of your team. If you do not currently have a care partner, I encourage you to seek one out. A care partner can be a spouse, friend, family member or anyone you feel comfortable sharing your diabetes journey with.

Looking back, when Sheila and I returned home on the later flight, it dawned on why even though she got us a later flight she was adamant about us getting home that same day. It was the next day that we renewed our wedding vows, and I must say after 36 years, we both looked at each other and said lovingly, “I Still Do”.

Is living with diabetes easy for us? No, but I honestly believe that together with my care partner, we are managing my diabetes. It is possible for us to continue to take steps towards better health outcomes so tell the coach to put you back in the game and get out there and enjoy your life.

It’s not the time you put in your life that makes a difference, it’s the life that you put in your time.


My Travel Partner, Diabetes by Lynda Sardeson

Thirty years is significant for me – it’s the length of the time I’ve shared my life with Type 2 diabetes and the number of years I’ve been a part-time international medical missionary requiring a significant amount of air travel. With both diabetes and air travel – and often both –  I have learned over the years to be prepared for the unexpected.

My routine is anything but normal when I travel so I plan, plan, plan and test my blood glucose frequently to monitor my blood glucose levels. I pack twice as much medication and diabetes supplies as I think I’ll need as well as extra blood glucose meters, extra batteries, snacks and glucose tabs which don’t melt, leak, get sticky or explode in the heat. Everything goes into my carry-on bag and stays with me. I never place my diabetes medications and supplies in a checked bag for fear the bag is lost or is exposed to extreme temperatures. I also keep a medical ID on the watch band I’ll be wearing.

I’ve figured how to get through airport security a little quicker and recommend visiting the TSA website for changes or updates for traveling with medicines before any trip. I first let the TSA representative know I have diabetes. Then I place one quart-size bag with my diabetes supplies and a separate quart-size with my non-diabetes liquids on top of my carry-on bag for screening. It helps to carry a letter from my physician stating I have diabetes and listing the medication I’m carrying. When I’m traveling to foreign countries, I make sure I “Google” the diabetes translation for the country I’m visiting and print it at the top of the physician’s letter. Did you know the diabetes translation in Swahili is “kisukari”?


Traveling with others, I let them know that I have diabetes and what to do in an emergency. I give each traveler a sealed envelope with my name printed on the front which includes a copy of my physician’s letter, medical history, emergency contact information and passport copy with instruction to open only if necessary. They do the same with their medical information and we exchange envelopes keeping them in our carry-on bags. At the end of the trip, we give each other back our respective sealed envelopes.


As a medical missionary, I have served in Russia, Boznia, Serbia and Macedonia with the last 10 years focused in Tanzania, East Africa. I have dealt with insulin storage challenges with extreme temperatures ranging from minus 30° in Russia to the sweltering temperatures of sub-Saharan Africa. In the desert, I’ve learned to carry my insulin and a cold pack in a zip-lock bag, keeping them separated so the insulin doesn’t freeze. Time zone changes can also be a challenge with diabetes so I developed a plan with my doctor that works for me.


No matter how well I might plan, things happen. I’ve found it’s important to be flexible, do the best I can and enjoy the journey. Wishing you safe and happy travels.

Eating Well with Diabetes by Bob Golombik

I confess to being an unrepentant foodie. It’s all my dad’s fault.

I grew up just outside New York City, which by itself made it pretty easy to cultivate and indulge a love of good food. For my dad (who worked tirelessly with my mom in their own retail store), eating well whenever the opportunity presented itself was his great joy. That could mean anything from a piled-high corned beef sandwich on rye at the local deli, to a meal at a terrific French restaurant, or to an over-abundance of wonderful Italian dishes cooked by family friends from our largely Italian community. The pre-requisite to enjoying this cornucopia of great meals was hot, freshly baked bread.  As slim as he was, I don’t think Dad ever counted carbs, and I followed in his footsteps.


Enter Hot Pastrami on rye at legendary Katz’s Deli in NYC. The deli where the pastrami is piled high, the pickles make your lips pucker, and no one dares commit the heresy of putting mayo on their sandwiches.

And then, at the ripe old age of 24, Type 1 diabetes entered my life.

No one had ever mentioned the word “diet” to me prior to my diagnosis. At the dinner table, they would more likely say, “Have seconds, you’re so thin, you can afford it.” However, now I was counting calories with every meal, rethinking what I would make when I cooked, and what I would order when I dined out. This prompted two big changes in my diet. First, sweet desserts pretty much fell off my radar screen. Au revoir, chocolate éclairs, you are missed. The second change was portion control. That big bowl of pasta with a loaf of crusty Italian bread that I loved so much? It was whittled down to a smaller quantity of carbs that matched my insulin dosage. I learned how to judge portions–not always the easiest thing when having a plate of homemade lasagna–and when to say “That was delicious, but can I please take the rest home with me?”


Lunch in the small fishing village of Ammoudi in Santorini, Greece. The front legs of the table are literally nailed to the floor 6 inches from falling into the water. The ultimate in fresh seafood.

Something interesting happened as a result of these changes. I discovered that I just didn’t need the large quantities of food to which I’d become accustomed. It really hit home on trips to Europe. The cuisines of France, Greece, Spain and especially Italy, which we consume with gusto here in the States, typically don’t emphasize copious amounts of food. Instead, it’s more manageable portions, so that at the end of the meal you feel satisfied but not stuffed. Couple that with a decrease in fried foods, and an increase in the use of olive oil, and you end up eating healthier without sacrificing flavor or creativity in the dishes. (When was the last time you heard anyone refer to the cuisine of any of these countries as “bland”?)


Farewell dinner for our sommelier friend Erik at French-Asian restaurant Kyirisan in DC. Mind-blowing and utterly unique dishes, especially the whole stuffed fish (lower right).

At home, more often than not we reach for an Italian cookbook when making something for dinner. When dining out, we seek out a wide variety of restaurants, some considered fine dining, others far more casual, but always with an eye toward the creative use of fresh ingredients. Yes, even when dealing with a “diabetic diet,” it’s possible to eat well. Just don’t forget the fresh bread!


Tickets restaurant in Barcelona, a tour de force of contemporary tapas. Voted one of the top restaurants in the world, the liquid olives are a revelation.




Kay’s Gift

Kay 2Growing up in a small town in the 1970s, we didn’t have video games or cell phones. We didn’t have play dates or kindergarten interviews. We wore bell-bottoms, listened to groovy music and played outside – a lot. For me, growing up in a small town in the 1970s also meant growing up with eight cousins who were shuttled from house to house and from parent to parent. We spent the night at each other’s homes on a weekly basis. On any given day, one mom would take us to the pool, a dad would take us to see a movie, a different mom would make us dinner… I only had two biological siblings, but it felt like I had eight. Of the nine of us, my cousin, Kay, was the oldest and I was the youngest. Kay nicknamed me “Kid”. To say we were close would be an extreme understatement. She was my favorite cousin, always signing her cards and letters to me, “From Kay – your cousin of a lifetime”. And she surely was.


As children, we engaged in all manner of fun and ridiculous activities. We rode bikes, played in the woods, built forts and held funeral services for our fallen pets (replete with veils made from dishtowels covering our heads as we made our way along in makeshift funeral processions to graves marked by cardboard “headstones”). As we grew older, Kay got married, moved away and became a registered nurse. But we remained as close as ever.

Throughout the years she was my mentor and confidante for every milestone: high school, college, first love, jobs… At every visit, we stayed up until all hours of the night discussing politics, religion, philosophy and love. We swapped books, phone calls, recipes and advice.

Kay was mother to two beautiful daughters. Kathie, the oldest, is 20 years younger than I – yet still calls me “Kid” as her mother always did. One day about six years ago, Kathie called me with devastating news, “Kid, I have something horrible to tell you – Mom’s been diagnosed with ovarian cancer.” Suddenly, conversations I’d had with Kay over the previous two years began to make sense. She had told me at various times that she knew something was wrong, that she didn’t feel like herself. Kay was known for her boundless energy, yet she had been feeling too fatigued to do many of the things she loved. She saw numerous doctors and was told that her white blood cell count was high. But no one could tell her why. Finally, a tumor had been found. After two years of not knowing – a sonogram revealed a tumor the size of a football.

The next five years were filled with hope followed by despair, laughter followed by sorrow, elation followed by disappointment. There were traditional and experimental medical procedures, alternative medicines and spiritual healing practices, each bringing with it a rollercoaster of emotion. We prayed that Kay would be one of the lucky ones – that she would beat the diagnosis – that we would have more time. My beloved cousin, Kay, passed away of ovarian cancer at the age of 59 on the eve of her favorite holiday – Christmas.

Along with the lifetime of touching, hilarious, deeply meaningful moments we shared, Kay left me with a radically altered world-view. My brilliant, kind, beautiful and generous cousin saw her diagnosis as a gift. She told me that every day since she learned of her cancer, she cherished things she had previously taken for granted. She listed examples as ordinary as a sunny day and as profound as having had the privilege to share her life with her family. Kay’s ability to turn such devastating news into a beautiful gift would forever shape the way I live my life.

As a trainer at VPR POP, I see the gifts Kay was talking about in each patient story I hear. We are fortunate to live in a time when new treatments and medical breakthroughs are discovered with lightning speed. We see more and more people facing unwanted diagnoses go on to live long, full, productive, happy lives. I am privileged to share in crafting many of their stories. Each day brings a new example of courage and hope. I like to think that Kay is a part of it all as I strive to keep the lessons of gratitude and hope she taught me at the forefront of everything I do. I can hear her voice in my head sometimes saying, “See, Kid? There are gifts all around you; all you have to do is look for them.” I know Kay would have loved hearing our patient stories and she would be thrilled by the work being done at VPR POP every single day.

Bonkers for Biotin? Beware…

When I learned I was pregnant with our fourth child – Bibi – in early 2015, my doctor ran a full blood panel. The only abnormality was an elevated TSH level, earning me a hypothyroid diagnosis and a prescription for a synthetic hormone. I hadn’t experienced any of the symptoms of hypothyroidism, but some quick online research showed an association between untreated hypothyroidism and pregnancy risks, so rather than question it, I felt grateful that this insidious condition had been identified. Throughout my pregnancy, subsequent TSH tests and other tests to measure thyroid function were normal – the medication was working!

Don’t ask me what kept me so busy for the next 18 months (really, don’t ask me…it’s all kind of a blur now), but it wasn’t until a regular checkup well after Bibi had turned one that I thought to ask if I should still be on the medication. My doctor said we’d run labs again to be sure. I was shocked when I received a phone call the next day from the nurse saying that I should discontinue the medication immediately as my TSH had plummeted well below the normal level. She said my doctor wanted me to see an endocrinologist and provided me with referrals. I was surprised, I was nervous… but I was also skeptical. I just didn’t FEEL bad. For someone who was now dangerously HYPERthyroid, I hadn’t lost any weight, I wasn’t feeling sensitive to temperatures, and even chasing after 4 kids couldn’t zap the energy out of me. One of the most important things I’ve learned from my years of working with empowered patients is to be your own advocate, so I was determined to go into my appointment with a well mapped out history and some research under my belt.

“I am guessing your thyroid is completely normal and that you never even had hypothyroidism in the first place.”

As much as I tried to rationalize things, I’ll admit that it’s hard to argue with lab results. In the back of my mind, I worried that if my thyroid had run the gamut from hypo to hyper over the past couple of years it might be “burning itself out”. Luckily, before my inner hypochondriac could take the reins, I was fortunate to get in with a knowledgeable endocrinologist. We went through my history and lack of symptoms (he did question my shaking hands, but I assured him they were the result of being so anxious about my appointment) and I was shocked when he looked at me and said, “I am guessing your thyroid is completely normal and that you never even had hypothyroidism in the first place.” He went on to show me the little space on my chart where I had filled in my medications: Collagen, Super-B complex, Royal Jelly, a probiotic and biotin. I’ve often wondered if I should even list my vitamin regimen on a medical history; I figured it did more to show I was proactive about my health than it did to give any insight into it. Well, had I not listed biotin that day, I may have forever been treating a disease I didn’t have.

Like many women in the constant pursuit of thicker hair and stronger nails, I began taking the over the counter supplement biotin several years ago…around the time that the first test showed hypothyroidism. I stopped only after those amazing pregnancy hormones kicked in and gave me all-too-short-lived Pantene commercial locks. Once I had Bibi and began shedding like a St. Bernard, I returned to the highest dose of OTC biotin. I was also getting an extra boost from the biotin in my Super-B complex, whose ingredients I frankly hadn’t taken into consideration. As my endocrinologist – and numerous articles – shared, biotin is one of the binding agents of many TSH tests. It was perhaps helping my hair and nails look a little more lush, but it was also rendering my lab work completely inaccurate. Sure enough, after repeating the TSH two weeks after discontinuing biotin and again a month later, my levels were right in the middle of the range that is considered normal at the lab my doctor uses. My doctor said I could resume biotin as long as I discontinued it before any lab tests. Since you never know when something might happen in life to warrant a lab test, I think I’ll pass and just go for the fancier hair conditioners from now on. I will also never fail to list all medications – including OTC vitamins and supplements – on health forms. While this was a stressful few weeks, I am abundantly grateful for good doctors, smart friends and the wake-up call to be more mindful of what I’m putting in my body.

Sexton family

Three things I’ve learned from working with patients

My name is Rachel Sexton and I am a self-diagnosed hypochondriac (yes, that’s probably redundant). Until about seven years ago, I never had a sore throat that wasn’t an early symptom of esophageal cancer nor a hangnail that wasn’t a MRSA infection waiting to happen. So how did I go from late night check-ups with Dr. Google to a recent experience where I was not the least bit worried that there was something wrong with my thyroid despite lab work to the contrary (sharing that story soon on the blog)? Simple: for the past seven years I have had the privilege of being surrounded by people who live with progressive and rare diseases; people who have been dealt a scary hand, but have chosen to live a good life to its fullest. As the Vice President of VPR Patient Outreach Program (VPR POP), I have the honor of leading the teams that help these patients tell their stories and, in turn, provide education and hope to thousands of their peers and care partners. Our small but mighty army changes peoples’ lives every day, mine included. But being cured of my “fear of sickness” is far from the only way these inspiring people have made an impact on me. Here are just a few of the many lessons I’ve learned from my VPR POP family:

Service is the Best Medicine

Yes, laughter – and all those molecules in the form of a pill or injection – certainly makes a difference, but don’t underestimate the power of serving others. Most of the people who participate in our programs leave behind families and jobs….to battle travel delays and airport food…all so they can end up in a room full of strangers sharing their most personal journeys. And they wouldn’t have it any other way. There is powerful data around the mutual reciprocity that results when you make a difference in someone’s life, but I don’t need a white paper to quantify what I observe every day: it literally feels good to help. My dear friend and diabetes advocate, Ruth, went as far as to tell me once, “If there were a magic pill that would cure my diabetes tomorrow, I wouldn’t take it because then I wouldn’t be able to do what I do now.” Indeed, Ruth knew what a special perspective she was able to offer as a person living well with diabetes – she not only inspired those struggling to control their blood sugar, she benefitted from their gratitude and felt an increased sense of responsibility as a role model to take excellent care of herself.


Perspective is Everything

I will never forget how enjoying a big Italian dinner with a group of multiple myeloma advocates changed my life. I was sitting next to my friend Todd who was talking about his autologous stem cell transplant and casually said, “You know, I haven’t had one bad day since my diagnosis.” How was this possible when everything I had been taught about the transplant process included the “first 100 days” filled with dangers, agony and indescribable exhaustion. In an incredulous voice, I asked Todd how it was possible he hadn’t had one single bad day. He replied, “Well, I’ve felt really awful at times, but it’s impossible to have a bad day when you’re still alive.” Those brave words are never far from my mind when it begins to fill with stress over soccer games and work projects (and hangnails): what an absolute luxury to worry about “normal” things.

There is ALWAYS a Silver Lining

My husband would accuse me of being not just a “glass half-full” optimist, but of looking at a half-full glass and trying to convince you that there’s at least 60% in there. Yes, every personality profile reveals that my inner Mary Poppins is fierce, but considering how much strength I’ve seen from those who refuse to take off their rose-colored glasses, I’m not asking her to pack up her umbrella anytime soon. It’s encouraging to think that each of the 5000+ programs we hold across the country each year to bring education and hope to those living with a progressive or rare disease all began with someone getting a frightening diagnosis. It’s encouraging to see the friendships that have grown from people who are united in their passion to make a difference and help others live well with their condition. It’s encouraging that members of the VPR POP family with Ph.D. after their name or “World’s Best Mom” on their coffee cup still say that being a patient advocate is one of the most important things they’ve ever done. And it’s encouraging that of the thousands of patient stories I’ve had the privilege to hear, the ones with the happiest endings come from those who took the approach to keep pushing forward, knowing that a better day was ahead.

I look forward to sharing many of these stories and perspectives with you as we grow our blog and social media presence. Thanks for taking the time to read. Please be sure to follow us on Facebook at and on Twitter at @VPRPOP.


I’ve been inspired by the VPR POP family to increase my level of service, including serving as the Co-Chair of the American Cancer Society’s Midwestern Cattle Baron’s Ball that raised $147,965!


Staff Spotlight: Allie Krumel (Why I’ll miss the people, and the cake)

My name is Allie, and I have recently completed a three-month internship with VPR POP. I am a recent college graduate, and let me tell you, entering the professional world was a daunting prospect. From finding the right company to figuring out what path I wanted my career to take, I was a nervous wreck as graduation drew closer and closer. However, I feel confident in saying that I have been more fortunate than many recent college graduates. I say this because I found a company that seeks to excel as a business, while also providing hope and care to people in need.

I was a Spanish and Communications major, and I believe that the ability to share a compelling story is an extremely powerful thing. This is why I have enjoyed my role at VPR so much. Over the past three months, I have had the opportunity to interview our patient speakers, write articles for the VPR blog and social media pages, and interview our own VPR staff members to learn more about their specific experiences working in patient education. Through my work with VPR (and interacting with these amazing people), I have learned several lessons which I will carry with me.

Even during difficult times, people will go out of their way to help other people. Peer-to-peer mentorship in healthcare is an amazing concept, but it also seems intuitive. It just makes sense that healthcare professionals should give their patients this invaluable resource to accompany their treatment plan: the empathy and perspective of another patient who has been able to successfully manage the same illness.

Upon learning more about the work VPR POP does, I was immediately struck by the importance of these programs. However, though it made sense, I also wondered if people managing the day-to-day ups and downs of a chronic illness would be willing to take on this extra responsibility of becoming a patient mentor. Even if they want to help, would people really be able to add this to their already full plate?

I need not have questioned the willingness of patients to serve as mentors and advocates for their peers. Through all of my conversations, I have been blown away by both the quality and dedication of our patient mentors. This reinforces my opinion that even when dealing with hardship, people want to share what they can to help others, whether that be their time, knowledge, or simply their ears to listen. People want to help other people. They don’t view this as an extra burden, but rather as something that adds joy and fullness to their own lives.

No matter what you do, having a great team will make your job so much more enjoyable. While most of my projects at VPR required me to write and work by myself, and while I love writing, I don’t think I would have been nearly as excited to come to work each day if I hadn’t enjoyed my co-workers. A positive atmosphere really makes all the difference. I could go to anyone in the office with questions, and I always felt supported whenever beginning a new project. Simply knowing that I had co-workers who wanted to help me learn made me want to be a better employee. The added bonus of having lunch buddies wasn’t bad, either.

Play to your strengths. While I was able to develop new skills and learn how to do things that were at first challenging for me, I was able to use my writing skills and create a niche for myself. By far my favorite part of my job was working on the VPR blog, and through discussing my desire and passion for writing with Vickie and Rachel, we were able to collaborate and come up with new ideas for stories. I learned that while I had a variety of tasks, I was able to show my own passion, and I feel this made me more valuable to VPR than if I would have been in a role that didn’t play to my strengths.

While I am excited for the opportunities that lie ahead, I know I will miss the work and the incredible people at VPR. I can’t help but feel immensely thankful for this experience. I have learned the value of patient education, but I have also learned the value of working with talented and passionate people. Thank you to VPR, and thank you to the incredible patient educators who share so much of themselves in order to inspire hope in others.

Staff Spotlight: Renee Shaner on Work-Life Balance

It’s no secret that stress and lack of balance cause dissatisfaction and “burn out” in the workplace. Statistics show that balancing work with family/relaxation time is becoming increasingly difficult for American employees.

According to Bloomberg business, 56% of managers in the United States are working more than the standard 40 hour work week, and the Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that 34.8% of all employed Americans work an average of 5.8 hours on the weekend. The Huffington Post published an article on work-life balance earlier this year, observing that “checking e-mail in bed, tweeting throughout dinner and taking work calls on the weekend have become common practices – often diminishing time to spend with family or to decompress.” The article goes on to say that this decrease in time between work and sleep is actually detrimental to overall productivity, since it means less time for people to unplug and “let creative juices flow”. (Read the full article here).

We asked Renee Shaner, VPR’s Accounting Controller of 25 years, to share why she feels balance is so important in the workplace, and how she takes steps to relax and unplug outside of work.

“When I come to work every day, I know I will be working with a great team to process a tremendous amount of work. We process the expense reports for more than 4,000 patient programs every year and we pride ourselves on turning things around quickly, so it’s a very demanding job. On my weekends though, it’s all about fun and relaxing at the Lake of the Ozarks. I go there every weekend with my husband of 37 years. Our grown children and our two adorable grandchildren like to join us also. We boat and swim all day, and then we barbeque, make s’mores and enjoy the sunset. The lake is my favorite place, but any time I have with my family helps me to de-stress and relax. For example, to celebrate my grandmother’s 100th birthday this summer, we all flew to Florida for her party at my cousin’s home. She told us the most amazing stories about her life. What a journey! Her advice to all of us is ‘Every day is a gift, so make the best of it.’ I can’t argue with that!”


Above: Renee and her grandmother at the 100th birthday celebration.

Why do you think work-life balance is so important? How do you de-stress and unplug? Share your advice in the comments below.

VPR POP Stars share their “Hidden Gem” Destinations

Have you ever taken a trip, whether for business or pleasure, and come across a location you felt was a “hidden gem”? When our patient speakers are not busy sharing their stories at patient education events, they often have the opportunity to explore new and beautiful places. We asked them to share their favorite “hidden gems” across America, and after hearing their stories, we’re adding a few new locations to our own own “must-see” travel lists.

“Bozeman, Montana. I spent a good chunk of my time just walking up and down the streets. In the evening, everyone comes out and relaxes in their front yards. Everyone is so friendly when you are walking by. I find a quick wave and a smile will lead to and invite great conversation. Great wine and great conversation – doesn’t get any better than that! There is plenty to do, plus it is about an hour away from Yellowstone Park. Highly recommend it.”

-Kim D., patient speaker from Houston, Texas

“Lake Tahoe. This East Coast girl had never been out west. A recent event in Reno finally gave me the opportunity. After the lunch program finished, I decided to do some exploring. With every twist and turn as I drove through the Sierra Nevadas, I just kept gushing “Oh my god!” I had never seen such majestic beauty. Then I arrived at Lake Tahoe. Wow! I immediately decided that the plan to retire to the Carolinas would be changed to retiring in the Tahoe area.”

-Laurie J., patient speaker from Holden, Massachusetts


pictured above: Lake Tahoe, submitted by Laurie J.

“[My wife] Gigi and I were riding our motorcycles around the Great Mesa Loop in western Colorado when we saw a ‘Bikers Welcome’” sign. We did a quick stop and U-turn that brought us to the Oasis at 10,000 feet called the Mesa Lakes Lodge.

Owners Andrea and Andy were the most gracious hosts. We made a personal connection instantly when Gigi told them we have our Indian Trike due to my MS, and it was definitely God’s will. We even came back the next day and enjoyed a wonderful dinner and excellent company.

When the topic of MS came up, Andrea was in tears. The only other people she knew with MS had either passed away or were on the way. She was so relieved that there were other ‘normal’ people who had MS. I told her we are way far away from ‘normal’. She shared her symptoms and was relieved that she wasn’t the only one with her set of symptoms. We had the most amazing and heartfelt talks together as two couples living with MS. We laughed and we cried, and we would do it again in a heartbeat.

We can’t wait till our next visit. We will rent a cabin and enjoy the lake. Andy even gave us some fly fishing 101 lessons; he is quite the bank of local knowledge when it comes to enjoying the great outdoors.

The lodge is just east of Grand Junction, CO and has big cabins with kitchens, smaller overnight cabins, and a couple of hotel rooms. They have a great pond loaded with trout, boat rentals, and in the winter they even do Snowmobile tours.

Stop by and say hello. Have a bite to eat, a cold one, and catch the band. You won’t be disappointed. Tell Andy and Andrea that John and Gigi say hello.”

-John G., patient speaker from Land o’ Lakes, Florida

“Historical beauty makes the Capital Hotel in Little Rock, Arkansas a hidden gem. From the southern charm to the huge elevator that was built big enough to accommodate a horse, this place was a step above the usual full service accommodations.

The service was amazing. They take care of you from the moment you pull up. The valet takes the car and the concierge takes your bag and offers you bottled water at the front door. Check in was a breeze, as they had my keys already and walked me to my beautiful decorated room.

The entire stay was well worth missing out on the frequent traveler miles!”

-Sarah C., patient speaker from Minneapolis, Minnesota

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Pictured above: the Capital Hotel in Little Rock. Photo submitted by Sarah C.

“I have to say, getting wrong turn info in Gettysburg from the GPS was one of the best adventures I have ever been on. I was only going to a gift shop to pick up a souvenir, but the GPS took me the long way around. Every turn it told me to take was historical. As excited as I was to discover more and more of our history, there was also an overwhelming sadness. All I could think was “Wow… the dead outnumber the living in this town”. It seemed that headstones were everywhere, as far as the eye can see. What an experience. For me, once in a lifetime.

“I must say, it was history all around me but it was a powerful sadness too…all those lives lost and the thousands of tombstones everywhere around the town to prove it.”

-Steve K., patient speaker from Riverside, California



Pictured above: Cemetery in Gettysburg. Photo submitted by Steve K.

“…all the interesting places in PA. My family and I went on a vacation there a few years ago that turned into a ‘food’ vacation. From the Amish towns to Philadelphia, we ate VERY well those few days. The cheese steak was my favorite.”

-Chad C., patient speaker from Vancouver, Washington

“I fell in love with Salt Lake City: crisp, clean air, mountains, the friendliness of the people there, and the Little America Hotel was splendid.”

-Stephanie B., patient speaker from Arcanum, Ohio

Pictured above: garden and aerial view of mountains in Salt Lake City. Photos submitted by Stephanie B.

“We were doing an event in Florida and extended our trip a few days so we could go to Sanibel Island, Florida. It is one of the most famous beaches for sea shells. It is the best beach for sea shells on this continent, and known as one of the best in the world. We had a huge pile of sea shells in about 15 minutes that ranged in size to teeny tiny to larger than my hand. The island has many beaches, lighthouses, etc. and the water was beautiful and clear. One of my favorite places ever!”

-Leslie Walker, Salt Lake City, Utah

What is a travel destination you feel is a “hidden gem”? Share your story in the comments section!