Kirstie's battle with cystic fibrosis and her passion for pole.
My name is Kirstie Tancock I'm 26 and I have lived with cystic fibrosis every day of my life.... Living with Cf has meant that I have had to have two double lung transplants, faced chronic rejection of my first transplant and now I'm battling chronic rejection of my second transplant. I currently fighting to stabilise although treatment options seem to have run out. There is no third transplant when these lungs fail but I continue to fight for my life and continue to dance and teach pole.
Can you explain a little bit about cystic fibrosis and how it affects you?
Cystic fibrosis is a genetic condition it affects all the main organs especially the lungs. For me I needed a double lung transplant at 21 after years of chest infections ruining my lungs. Unfortunately a transplant isn't a cure and I went in to chronic rejection less then 2 years post my first transplant. I was lucky enough to receive rare 2nd transplant. I'm one of only 6 people in the uk to have received a second transplant.
I have severe digestive issues, pancreas failure meaning I'm diabetic and don't absorb fat. There are many complication to cystic fibrosis and post transplant. Such as arthritis, osteoporosis, malabsorption, renal, liver problems, living post transplant means I am immune suppressed and at high risk of infection which can be extremely risky.
How has CF affected your ability to pole dance?
It's harder to train when your body is constantly fighting against you. You have to have time off when ill which can be frequent pre and post transplant and this means a lot of retraining. With My first transplant I had to learn how to walk & talk again, in fact when I woke I couldn't even open a envelope this meant a lot of hard work before I could get back on to the pole. It felt like it took forever but in reality it was a short time.
Do you think pole dancing has had any positive impact on your ability to live with CF?
Pole dancing is my passion, if I had made my living doing any other job I wouldn't have worried about taking time off as sick but being my passion I always pushed myself to keep going even on oxygen and I think In return it kept me alive. It's had mental and physical benefits. Making me work hard to regain fitness and helping my metal health. Post transplant can be a hugely confusing time, your life has been flipped around for the better but there can be confusion over where to start living and rebuilding your life. Pole gave me focus, ambition and drive at just the right times.
"There are hundreds of people I want to thank. My donors and their families for the most truly selfless act to donate, I can't summarise that in words because there aren't any....."
You have now survived 2 double lung transplants which is amazing, yet somehow you have found the strength and courage to compete at Pole Theatre. Was this a difficult thing for you to do or did it help you to deal your illness?
I always wanted to compete, I knew I had it in me and I still don't think I've been able to show everyone everything that's there. Post second transplant it became a huge focus of mine. Competing is hard for anyone, we all have our own mile stones and hurdles to over come, my biggest were my breathing, even though when I started training I was really well, building my cardiovascular ability to be able to compete felt life a very personal battle. Battling the fear of breathlessness and knowing it was ok and not because I was ill. Then as I started to have breathing difficulties in training as my lungs had started to reject that was really hard. Mentally I was in constant battle with myself and my own belief, could I really compete among these amazing athletes? I think everyone suffers self doubt when entering the competing stage. Everyone doubt is personal. I also think that's why competing is such a amazing opportunity you learn so much about yourself and on that journey to the stage.
Have you received much love through social media from your fellow polers?
I've had a lot of support from the pole community. Pole junkie shared a blog I wrote for them, pole hog and artist Rebecca Dorset have held offers and deals to help raise more for my current fundraiser. Fi Bourke is holding a raffle of one of her gorgeous outfits which has raised £510 towards my goal so far. There have been lots of messages and a general feeling that I am part of a community that I have spent 10years of my life trying to help build as a instructor.
You got married just before your 1st transplant, this must have been an incredibly emotional day for you on so many levels. Can you tell us a bit more about your experience?
I had been rushed in to resus 3 days before and the medical team were told I had days left to live and wouldn't be leaving the hospital. I was determined to leave the hospital and marry Stuart my husband. The night before My wedding my sister and mum spent the night in the hospital and The morning of my wedding my nurses took me to the venue. There were many preparations in place in case I passed away on my wedding day, including my husband having a do not resuscitate in his back pocket the whole day which he had to sign. We were in a really precarious position, I wanted to live but had I been resuscitated in that situation transplant would have not been a option so I would have been kept alive to be in pain. Despite all of this it was the best day of my life. A true day to celebrate mine and my husbands love and I wouldn't change it.
How can people help and support people, like yourself, who suffer from CF?
Signing the organ donor register is hugely important. You are more likely to need a transplant then ever become a organ donor. Secondly you can donate to my fundraising page for Harefield Hospital, the lead cardio thorasic transplant hospital in England.
How much have you raised for Harefield Hospital so far and what is your ultimate goal?
Over the years I've raised several thousand pounds for Harefield through various fundraisers. In total for different charities around 30k.
My current fundraiser is at £1.7k I would ultimately like to reach 10k. Within the next year. Not something Iv shared so openly before but it's a personal goal which through doing events I hope I can reach.
It's my 27th birthday on September the 29th and I would like to have raised 2k by then, that goal has been shamed so I would like to reach 3k by my birthday.
What is about the treatment at Harefield Hospital that has been most special/vital to you?
Harefield placed me on life support before my first transplant this was a specialist machine that took my blood out re oxygenated it and took out carbon dioxide. The NHS doesn't fund this, this is funded by the charity. Having both my transplants, treatment and rehabilitation after my transplants, special treatment and medication post transplant and specialist treatments for chronic rejections. Everything the hospital does is specialist and fundamental to keeping me alive and well.
Is there anyone you would particularly like to thank for their support?
There are hundreds of people I want to thank. My donors and their families for the most truly selfless act to donate, I can't summarise that in words because there aren't any.
My medical team for taking chances in me and placing me on life support when other teams would have given up but realising I deserved the chance to fight, the right to life and again when it came to my second transplant.
My family are always a huge source of inspiration and love when hope seems thin. They are always there to cheer me on and help me keep fighting. They are a reason to fight.
All the people who share this journey with me and carry on supporting me.
How soon can we hope to see you back on the pole?
I am on and off the pole even in between hospital admission. My health is currently on a knifes edge but I do what I love as often as I can. Will I even be back on the stage I don't know. My main goal is just survival at the moment. I have had radiation treatment to hault my rejection and many other horrendous medications but I don't know if any of those are going to work. All I know is my lung function is still going down, if I do stabilise I don't know what level that will be at. I'm trying to just focus on every day at a time and week by week. Everything around me is changing so much. It seems hard to think further that the next month or so. Even wondering what next week might bring and if i will find things harder seem a little To daunting. I hope and dream one day to still win a competition. It is one of my biggest goals.
How did you discover pole dancing?
I was a my college at the time and attended the local university pole society. I enjoyed pole so much it wasn't long before I took up teaching.
What do you love most about pole dancing?
I love the freedom of expression, the determination to master new tricks and the feeling when you reach them. Mostly the joy when you achieve something you never thought your body was capable of especially when your body can struggle so much on a day to day basis.
What do you love most about teaching your art to others?
I love the confidence and passion I help to install in women. Especially when you see the difficulties everyone faces in life and you allow them the time to be free of their worries.
Do you often have to cancel your classes due to your illness and if so are your students understanding and supportive?
I can cancel on a regular basis but I have plans in place with apprentices and fellow instructors to cover. These are things I'm addressing as my business has grown dramatically in the last year. I hope to have 2 fellow instructors able to cover very soon who I have been training up. I also want to have my business in a place that it will still run when I'm not here anymore. My biggest fear is all my hard work will be lost.
It's taken me along time to allow others in to do this as I started it from scratch, it's my love, my passion my baby. You have to trust a lot when allowing others to cover & teach or you. That's why having my own apprentice instructors is so important as they teach how I have taught them. They have there own styles and individuality which I wanted them to keep but maintaining my ethos.
Kirstie and her husband, Stuart, pictured right performing at Pole Theatre 2015.
What is your favourite genre of pole?
I love to tell a story. I come from a performance art background having studied, singing, dancing and acting. When I got to taken the stage at pole theatre that was where I felt I could perform exactly how I wanted to. Also in a extremely emotive person and I love to create conflict in people's emotions on he stage. Make them think and feel things they didn't think they would.
Do you prefer static or spinning?
Spinning! I love a good spinning combo, in the last 2 years my love for spinning has grown but I feel maybe my static pole flow has suffered so I would like to try to concentrate on that a little. I feel balance is key in pole with anything, you can love one component of pole but trying not to neglect the other. Much like strong side weak side.
Do you use any grip aids when poling?
I do! I suffer with lots of skin problems due to all the medication I'm on and the radiation therapies. I'm pretty dry so I like Itac!
What are you pole dancing goals?
At the moment to compete again and hopefully win!
Is there a specific pole move you want to nail?
I have been working on rainbow marchencho.
Who in the world of pole inspires you most?
Lots of people inspire me, Amy Williams, my coach, inspires me a lot. I'm a huge Felix Cane fan. I've been in the industry a long time and back in the day we would look at videos of Felix and simply wonder at how she moved and created these amazing shapes. I still do but she was at the forefront of the industry doing amazing new things. She paved the way for a lot of us. Now I can Eagle and that is something I never thought I would achieve.
Would you recommend pole dancing to other CF sufferers and if so do you have any advice for instructors about how to make classes more inclusive for those with illness?
Most definitely! To me it's communication! Talk to them never patronise or assume they can't because of there illness/disability. I hate when people presume to tell me what I can, can't, should and shouldn't do. Everyone with cystic fibrosis is different as with any illness, disability. I teach a lot of people with various illnesses and my main approach is to push them just as hard but make it known that they can tell me at any point of somethings not right for them. I approach all my students as individuals anyway and I think that provides a nourishing environment for people to grow as individuals, artists and athletes.