Summer in the Catskill region of New York State is always a special, if not prime time for fly fisher, the ideal moment to rediscover the rich fly fishing history that seems to lurk behind every rock of the Beaverkill, between the rhododendron bushes of the Willowemoc, or on the streets of its quaint little towns.
The rivers are getting a little lazy this time of year, softly rippling and gurgling, but most certainly inviting to new anglers. On one of their banks, a small group of women huddles together a little self-consciously. They have met only recently, but the bond they share is a strong one, the result of a common and potentially devastating experience. These women are all breast cancer survivors, now dealing with the uncertainties and discomforts of recovery. It's a long and painful process both physical and mental. As important as physical therapy is for the body, regaining self-confidence and peace of mind, can prove to be the harder task. They have reached that critical point when finding a new interest, a new passion, may just be the key to success.
Casting For Recovery, a non-profit organization founded in 1996, offers women recovering from breast cancer this opportunity through free fly-fishing clinics in various parts of the country. In these weekend-long retreats Casting for Recovery, however, provides more than just the opportunity to learn a new activity. For the participants, in fact, who can count on the support and guidance of an all-volunteer staff that includes psychotherapists, healthcare experts and trained female fly fishing instructors, the clinic becomes a totally enriching experience.
Lisa Lyons, a member of this volunteer staff, approaches the group in a caring way that has nothing contrived or artificial about it. She always makes the participants feel welcomed and relaxed. When I met Lisa a few years ago, she was the energetic and successful director of the Catskill Fly Fishing Center and Museum in Livingston. A petite brunette, with a soft, warm smile, Lisa is now Community Planner for the National Parks Service Rivers and Trails Program, a job which allows her the opportunity to spend a lot of her time in the outdoors she loves. Lisa, however, still manages to find time to volunteer her expertise to the organization, Casting For Recovery.
'I love what the program does for these women', Lisa explains. 'It's like a reawakening for them. They're surrounded by a soothing natural habitat and camaraderie. Even if they have never thought about fly-fishing before, they plunge into this new activity. I recently met one of the women who attended the clinic at a local supermarket. She came to me bubbling with excitement and told me with a big smile: 'All of my fishing gears are ready. I can't wait until the beginning of the season!' I felt really proud then because of her enthusiasm, her new purpose.'
One of the retreat's most beneficial aspects is the bonding that occurs between the women. Often it's the beginning of meaningful and long-lasting friendships that strongly contribute to the women's recovery. As a group, they discover the intricacies and the physical and mental challenges of a new sport. The healing contact with their natural surroundings allows them to momentarily forget their discomfort while learning the mechanics of casting. This motion closely mimics exercises followed in therapy to reduce lymphedema and a painful consequence of mastectomy that tightens the lymph vessels' scars and diminishes the elasticity of the skin under the arm. The casting movements can help restore this mobility much like the specific exercises would, with the added advantage of being a far more enjoyable activity.
Casting for Recovery is more than ever committed to contribute to the well-being of breast cancer survivors, who come from diverse socio-economic and cultural backgrounds. These three-day weekends which host between twelve and fifteen women per session, are meant just as a beginning, a starting point. On Friday nights the groups have a chance of socializing and meeting fellow students and staff during the welcoming reception at the lodge. Saturday is a day filled with activities. The women practice casting techniques, knot tying, learn about fishing gears and basic stream biology, all the skills they will need on Sunday, when they will actually implement what they have just learned in a catch-and release session on local streams. Of course the schedule is a very flexible one and if someone decides to stay behind and relax with a book, that's fine too. Most of the time, however, fly-fishing fever takes over and it tends to last a lifetime.
Some of the best shared moments may be ones spent together during a 'fireside chat'. Under a psychotherapist's guidance, each student is encouraged to talk about her own experiences, the current issues in breast cancer recovery, offer her own suggestions on emotional coping techniques, or just discuss topics of general interest to the group. For the women this session provides an invaluable opportunity to express their innermost feelings and thoughts in a support group's caring and sympathetic atmosphere. True to their motto 'To Fish is to Hope', Casting for Recovery is not just about fly fishing, but also it is about hope, disease management, and the development of new interests, all necessary steps for breast cancer patients in making a complete recovery.
As the organization is based solely on donations and volunteer's support, a major effort is constantly needed to continue and provide more and more women with the opportunity to share in this experience. If you'd like to learn more about this group or to make a donation so that more women can benefit from it, visit their comprehensive and informative web site at www.castingforrecovery.org There you will also find links to other organizations and groups dealing with the different aspects of breast cancer and a complete schedule of upcoming clinics. Information can also be obtained by calling 1-888-553-3500, or by writing to Casting For Recovery - PMB-257- 946 Great Plain Avenue, Needham, MA 02492 - E-mail
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