Now, before your head fills with nightmare visions of squirmy worms and tangled lines, just hold on. Casting for Recovery, a national non-profit support and educational program for breast cancer patients/survivors, is based on fly fishing: fishing with artificial flies, NOT worms. And it’s about so much more than fishing; as CFR’s Web site notes, “We provide an opportunity for women whose lives have been profoundly affected by [breast cancer] to gather in a beautiful, natural setting and learn fly-fishing, ‘a sport for life.’ Just as importantly, we offer an opportunity to meet new friends and have fun. Our weekend retreats incorporate counseling, educational services and the sport of fly-fishing to promote mental and physical healing.” And, those magical words: it’s FREE.
To sign up, visit the Casting for Recovery Web site.
Here we are, in Vermont's Green Mountains: Sunday morning, ready to get onto the stream.
I attended a CFR retreat several years ago, and it was one of the best experiences of my life. We gathered at a mountain lodge in Vermont, twelve women in varying stages of dealing with cancer: from ten years out and feeling fine, to in between chemo treatments and feeling pretty crummy. None of us had fished before; and none of us looked like the typical “outdoor superwoman”–you know, one of those slim, sculpted women who can ride a bike 50 miles, climb a cliff, and run a half-marathon before breakfast. We were more typical: young-middle-aged to older, kinda overweight (or battling not to be), pretty much a desk-job crew.
Struggling into our rubber waders on the first night was plenty of physical challenge for most of us. But we shared one thing in common, besides cancer: we all had a “what the hell, let’s give it a try” attitude. And that’s all you need at a CFR retreat: a willingness to try something new. The dynamite instructors walk you through the rest of it, from knot tying to casting practice till, on Sunday morning, you’re actually standing out in a stream, waders on, fishing rod in hand, and casting line out on the water (catching a fish is definitely optional).
I didn't catch a fish, but at least I looked like a fisherman, right?
The retreat isn’t solely about fishing. Fishing is the means to an end: bonding with other survivors around a common activity, sharing experiences, feeling less alone, taking a break from your everyday life. Learning a semi-athletic skill that’s perfectly suited for survivors: the physical motions of fly fishing provide gentle exercise for your arm and shoulder, promoting mobility and helping rebuild strength. And, at the end of the day, having FUN. I mean, a weekend at a fabulous lodge, gourmet meals, being with women, all FREE–what’s not to love? Each retreat is staffed not only with fishing instructors, but with a health care professional (physical therapist or nurse) who can answer your questions (“Is it OK for me to cast with my lymphedema arm?”) and a psychotherapist, who leads an evening sharing session.