“There were generations between some of us, but for this weekend and forever going forward, we are all sisters held by a common bond; a bond we surely did not ask for but are grateful for nonetheless. I was blessed to witness such vulnerability for this one weekend in so many strong women, all slowly healing through each other’s words. This shared experience will forever be etched in my mind as part of my first steps in healing a terrible disease. “

—Noelle, participant in CfR Georgia’s 2016 Retreat

Casting for Recovery (CfR) is a non-profit organization that uses fly-fishing as a therapy tool for women with breast cancer. The organization seeks to improve the lives of breast cancer survivors by engaging participants, free of cost, in two and a half days of camaraderie and support while learning new skills, specifically fly-fishing, in the healing environment of nature. They’re doing it all right, because the program has a 100% approval rating from participants. Two participants, Noelle (CfR Georgia 2016) and Kathy (CfR’s Metastatic Retreat, Texas 2016) have generously offered to share their stories and experiences with the world, ‘setting the hook’ for others to follow them on this amazing journey of hope and healing.

The retreat was a perfect blend of learning the interworkings of fly-fishing taught by fabulous instructors, great food, and emotional support from my co-survivors, staff, and volunteers. From the first moment I arrived, I was having truly meaningful conversations with other women who knew what my breast cancer journey over the last two years had been like. It was as if we all had known each other for years, even though we were having the most intimate discussions with complete strangers.” —Noelle

“Throughout the retreat, all of us were lovingly pampered and taken care of by the staff. They made us feel important, valued and normal. Normalcy is something we all desire in the world of MBC. We rarely get that and it was nice to just be out in nature, learning a new skill and just relaxing in the company of friends.” —Kathy

All it takes is the right setting and the right people to create an amazing experience that fosters healing and growth.

I first learned about Casting For Recovery from a friend of mine whose life calling is to help others. An art therapist and avid fisherwoman, she was lured into volunteering at Wyoming’s CfR retreats because of the intriguing combination of cancer therapy and fishing. Volunteers like her who have medical, counseling, or fly-fishing backgrounds are crucial to the operation. CfR supporters and sponsors (including but not limited to Orvis, Cabela’s, Simms, and Sisters on the Fly) raise all the funds needed to run their retreats offering free attendance for every participant.

No Fishing Experience Necessary.

“Before the retread started, I was anxious about not having much experience in the world of fly-fishing. The many volunteers and staff of Casting For Recovery quickly made that feeling disappear. Everything was so relaxing and fun, I soon realized I was not the only ‘green’ one in the group and that my reason for being there went way beyond fly-fishing.” —Noelle

CfR explains that at its most basic level fly-fishing, particularly the gentle, rhythmic casting technique, is very physically therapeutic for women who have had breast surgery or radiation. But the activity serves a much deeper function in building confidence, reducing stress and fostering healing.

Out in the world, Breast Cancer is divisive, redefining part of one’s identity. But, when a group of women come together, all with this terrible commonality, they find a community of support, to laugh and cry and learn to live again, together.

When you cast a line, you reel in so much more than just a fish…

Every participant leaves the retreat having netted something important whether it be a new hobby, new friends, or new way of embracing life.

Throughout the weekend, as I practiced my casting, learned to meditate on the sounds of nature, and eventually making it into the river with my fly fishing pole, I was quickly reminded of all of my fond memories of the days when I used to be an avid hiker. I can no longer hike a 12- mile trail. But, in these moments I spent learning to fish, I realized that, even though I had to close the door on that active part of my life, there are new doors that can be opened. There are ways I can challenge myself that are within my capabilities, I just have to learn to do it differently.” —Kathy

CfR knows that “Women living with breast cancer have different needs”

Last year, CfR piloted their first retreat specifically for women with Metastatic Stage IV breast cancer. Kathy, a participant in CfR’s first Metastatic retreat in Texas (2016) highlights why this retreat, exclusively for Stage IV survivors is so unique and important:

“June 2015 was a month that changed my life forever.   The feeling of firmness in my left breast turned out to be Stage IV Metastatic Breast Cancer. I had received a diagnosis for which there is no cure. My world abruptly changed from looking forward to a life full of possibilities, to seeing them all begin to fade away as my time now would be slowly running out. As an MBC patient there really is very little support. Everyone knows how to help someone who has hope to survive but there aren’t many who know how to support the dying. It is a job for the strong. And, I met some of these amazing strong individuals when I was able to attend a Casting for Recovery retreat in October of 2016.” —Kathy

This year, CfR will be offering Metastatic retreats in Colorado, Georgia, and Texas and hopes to offer more locations in coming years.

Since it was founded in 1996, CfR has changed the lives of countless women offering hope and comfort.

Approximately 800 women are served every year across 55 retreats. In addition to CfR’s traditional retreats which are held nationwide and open to women of any age and in any stage of treatment or recovery, Casting for Recovery also offers specialty programs for specific underserved populations. These include a retreat for female military veterans with breast cancer, retreats catered toward underserved women in Southeastern United States who might otherwise lack access, and a Native American Women’s Retreat launching in Oklahoma this October. Because of the high demand for these retreats, women can only participate in a retreat once.

“There is very little to smile and laugh about in my day-to-day struggles, and my time on the retreat was the first since my diagnosis that I was truly content, happy and felt a sense of normalcy. As I left the retreat I felt renewed, empowered and ready to face my unknown future with a little more ammunition.” —Kathy

And all this from Fly-Fishing?

There are no words to describe the feeling I had catching that first fish with my own personal instructor cheering me on with a demonstrative “set the hook” ringing in my ears! For that brief moment, breast cancer did not exist.” —Noelle

“This was so much more than an opportunity to learn how to fly fish.  It was a lesson in living!  It was a reminder to me that my time may eventually run out, but not today.  Today, I can learn something new.  Today I can reach out and find joy and peace by embracing the beauty that only can be provided by nature.  I learned that friendships can still be made, love can still be given and it is possible to still have fun.  I learned that I can still live beyond my diagnosis.” —Kathy

Casting For Recovery is currently accepting applications for their 2017 retreats

To support this amazing project through donation or volunteering, visit: https://castingforrecovery.org/how-you-can-help/more-ways-to-give/ .

If you or anyone you know would be interested in participating visit: https://castingforrecovery.org/breast-cancer-retreats/locations/ .