When Rebecca Mohler ’11 was a first-year student, there were days when her joints hurt so much that she could barely walk to class or even down the hall.
“It was very scary at that point, because I had no idea what was wrong with me, and it was probably one of the most painful things I’ve ever had to deal with,” she says.
Mohler, who is president of Lafayette Dance Company and has danced and performed on stage most of her life, was diagnosed at age 19 with rheumatoid arthritis, an autoimmune disease where the body stops producing the lubrication that helps joints move and eats away at the cushioning between the bones. It can cause permanent deformity in joints, limit mobility, and can affect the skin, eyes, lungs, kidneys, and heart.
It was difficult news for someone so passionate about dance.
“When I was a child, I always wanted to take ballet. My sister and I would dance around the house for my mom or we would put on shows for whoever would watch,” says Mohler (Lancaster, Pa.). “My birthday present from my grandmother for my eighth birthday was a year of ballet classes, and when I was old enough to get my pointe shoes that was probably one of the most exciting times of my childhood.”
In high school, she also took classes in jazz, lyrical, and hip-hop styles, and was a teacher’s assistant for a young girls’ ballet class. She was a featured dancer in many of her high school musicals.
“When I was diagnosed, dance was one of the first things that came to mind. There were days I could dance, and there were some that I couldn’t. I didn’t want to have to give it up.”
And she hasn’t given it up. Thanks to a positive attitude, early detection, and medication, her disease is in remission. Although there is no cure yet, it was caught early enough to minimize the damage to her joints.
When Mohler graduates May 21 with a degree in psychology, she’ll do so after being involved with an impressive array of performance activities including three years as dance company president; co-captain of the Lafayette Dance Team; a featured dancer in the Marquis Players productions of High School Musical, Footloose, Once on This Island, and Aida; and choreographer for Once On This Island.
“A diagnosis like that is daunting and life-changing, and it did change my life. But at this point, I really try to not let it affect me day to day or in how I want to live and what I want to do. After I figured out what medications worked for me, my arthritis now has little impact on my life or dancing and I am so thankful for that. My rheumatologist said since I was a dancer, that his goal was for me to be able to dance at my granddaughter’s wedding and I’m fairly certain I will be able to if things continue the way they are.”
Outside performance, Mohler has been involved in research and service on campus. She researched conditioned animal responses and reinforcement with Robert Allan, associate professor of psychology, in his pigeon lab. She was also able to see the “other side of the classroom” as a psychology lab assistant with Carolyn Buckley, psychology lab coordinator.
“It’s very easy to get attached to the professors here because of the small community and class sizes and the interest that professors take in our learning and involvement.”
She served as the fundraising chair for the Marquis Players, which donates all proceeds from its annual production to charity. She was also an officer and took part in numerous service projects with her sorority, Delta Delta Delta.
Mohler believes that her professors and friends have provided the perfect environment to help her grow as a student, performer, and person.
“My favorite part of being a student at Lafayette is the person that it made me. I am stronger, more confident, more optimistic, more outgoing, less of a worrier, and a better leader. Lafayette helped me find and hone these skills and for that I thank the whole community and the opportunities it presented to me.”
After graduation, Mohler plans to work in the special education field for a year before going to graduate school to become a school psychologist.
She also plans to always be involved with dance.
“In some way, shape, or form I hope to be dancing for a long time…all the way to my granddaughter’s wedding.”