Bad Kitty® Inspiration Series: Tiffany Rose Mockler
The pole world is full of inspirational stories. From comebacks to Come-to-Jesus’s one thing pole dancers have in common is the ability to face and overcome adversity. So this month at Bad Kitty® we decided to kick off our Inspiration Series. This series is dedicated to celebrating pole dancers who have beat incredible odds when it comes to their health. And as you can guess, pole has been an integral part of their recovery.
Our first interviewee is Tiffany Rose-Mockler. Born in Connecticut but a California transplant, Tiffany teaches pole at The Vertitude in Los Angeles.
BK: Tell us a bit about your circumstances. What kinds of challenges have you faced with your health?
If you look closely, you can see a huge scar that begins near the center of my upper spine, then runs across my shoulder blade and trails off under my left armpit. From a distance it is absolutely unnoticeable. But, if you get near me and you really look, the scar can seem pretty significant.
When I was born the room went silent. This is because I was born with a large nevus that almost covered my entire back. A nevus is a dark, raised birthmark and in my case, it was highly likely to become cancerous. A specialist told my parents that the nevus would need to be removed because it was only a matter of time before it grew into cancerous lumps. However, if they tried to remove it immediately the scar would stretch across my entire body as my skin grew. So my parents decided to wait, keep an eye on it. We went about our lives.
I am one of five Irish kids. My mom is a great swimmer and we were all athletes of one kind or another. I became a speed and synchronized swimmer. Kids would ask me about what was on my back and I would tell them it was a nevus. I never felt too self-conscious about it. I probably would have now, but as a kid it was out of sight, out of mind. I became very good at swimming and was competing and winning races by age 4. I spent all of my summers in the water with my siblings while my mother and older sister Candy taught swim lessons and lifeguarded. In the winter I was on two swim teams.
Late on a very hot summer day, when I was eight years old, Candy died unexpectedly and mysteriously. She had a grand mal seizure. She was eighteen and she was not epileptic. To say this event changed the course of my life would be like saying Hurricane Katrina was nothing more than an inconvenience to the people of New Orleans. Everything changed.
While my mother and father tried to find out what had happened to my sister, my birthmark had developed cancerous lumps. So it was time to operate. The doctor told me it would take three years of surgeries and around 600 stitches to remove. At eight years old, you are old enough to understand almost anything. When the person you loves the most dies at that tender age, make no mistake, who you become is forever altered. I grew up fast in three short words. “Candy is dead.”
I couldn’t care about the CT scans I was having to make sure I didn’t mysteriously die during surgery, I couldn’t care about the pain of the operations or the arm sling I had to keep my left, dominant, arm in for months at a time. The fact that I couldn’t swim and that my stitches itched were all very minor in my mind. My family was broken, my mother damaged beyond repair and my sister, my lifeguard, was gone forever.
Every year for three years I went in for my surgeries, did my recovery time, had my stitches taken out by the most kind pediatric surgeon on the eastern seaboard, and at age 11 I was finally, nevus and cancer free. Kids at the pool now asked what the scar was from. I said it was a shark bite.
BK: Have these challenges impacted your emotional health positively or negatively? How so?
My medical condition didn’t hit home for me until after I had time to grieve my sister’s death. To be honest, I think I am still grieving, so I still find it hard to focus on my own body and the trauma that I endured. I was always so focused on her and my parents during that part of my life. I almost can’t look at the scar without thinking of my sister even though one has nothing to do with the other. I really could have died. But, when I do think about how brave I was during the surgeries as a kid and how I never complained, I am proud. I do have a positive feeling about my strength of character. The scar is a badge of honor for me. I don’t ever really talk about this much. In fact, this is the first time I have ever written about it. Not even in a diary. It feels good to share, actually.
BK: When did you discover pole?
About eight years after I retired from my Synchronized Swimming career I found pole. I am a personal trainer and a client took me to a class in Redwood City, at Poletential. I immediately fell in love and inverted in my first class! I was hooked. I loved how pole made me feel and all the possibilities it opened up for the human body.
BK: What kind of an effect did pole have on you mentally, emotionally, physically, even spiritually? What do you consider to be the most healing aspect of pole dancing?
Pole has had a tremendous effect on me emotionally, spiritually and physically. When I am dancing I am able to only focus on one thing at a time, whether that is an emotion or a physical movement. Pole dance is amazing because it whittles my whole world down into a single moment. When I dance it is therapy. I can be broken. I can be in the past if I want. No one seems to mind. It doesn’t need to get discussed. Pole dancers just dance together with whatever we are holding inside. My favorite part of pole is the free dance. The lights get turned down low and I can just hang upside down, twirl in contorted positions or crumble on the floor and not be a strong person. Because when you are a good dancer you are consumed. It is almost like a license to feel because feeling makes for greatness. Nothing else on earth works that way like dance does.
I can’t imagine being stronger physically than I am now. Although I am a very tiny person, feeling powerful has always given me a sense of pride. Pole continues to make my body the best it can be. Like many athletes, I don’t separate the body from the mind. Being strong makes my spirit feel good.
BK: What advice do you have for other pole dancers who may be going through a challenging time?
My humble advice to a pole dancer who is going through a difficult time is this: don’t stop dancing. Even if it is as simple as putting music on and swaying. If you are facing a physical problem, find a way to safely work around it in a manner that keeps your emotions flowing through you. When we lay stagnant we decay. What is hurting us can consume our spirits. Please just keep moving through the pain. Listen to beautiful music that coaxes out the pain. Don’t bury it.
If it is emotional grief, know that every day is a different level of that grief. Some days will seem unbearable. Other days you will climb a pole and realize, this is your life and you are so powerful. You defy gravity for fun. This pain can’t hold you down, literally.
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