Body and Soul
(page 2 of 7)
BATTLING BREAST CANCER
With a Fly Rod
Breast-cancer survivor Dani Stern contemplates a cast on the Big Wood River. Photo by Nick Price.
A calm afternoon standing in the current, meditatively casting, can be therapeutic, even healing for many fly fishers. For almost two decades now, a national non-profit organization called Casting for Recovery has shared this experience with thousands of women battling breast cancer.
The brainchild of a reconstructive breast cancer surgeon from Vermont, who realized that the repetitive motion of fly casting rehabilitates the soft tissues affected by breast cancer, Casting for Recovery (CFR) was founded in 1996. Since then, hundreds of retreats have been held—free of charge—for over 5,000 women throughout the country and beyond. In 2011 alone, 47 retreats were held in 32 states, including one in Idaho.
Each retreat hosts 14 women who have, or have had, breast cancer. Applicants are randomly selected to attend the retreats—their names are actually put on paint swatches and pulled out of a hat at their national office. The three-day retreats are structured to provide fly fishing instruction as well as medical advice, support and counseling. Seven to 10 volunteers work at each retreat, including oncologists, counselors and fly fishing instructors.
The Living Waters Ranch in Challis has hosted Idaho’s CFR retreat for the past four years. Hailey resident Dani Stern, who was diagnosed with breast cancer six years ago, attended Idaho’s retreat in 2010.
A mother of two, Dani has long been active in the community, working for the City of Ketchum and leading a local Girl Scout troop for years. While fishing on the Big Wood River with me on a crisp afternoon last October, Dani shared her CFR experience and described fly fishing as an “in-between.”
Before being diagnosed, Dani skied, mountain biked and did all of the things we love to do in the Wood River Valley, but cancer slowed her down. Fly fishing allows her to be active outside again.
Dani said that women from all over southern Idaho and all sorts of backgrounds attended the retreat, but they all had at least one thing in common, fishing. Besides the fishing instruction, the retreat provided an opportunity for the women to network, to share their stories and to ask questions. Since Idaho is a rural state, Dani said that many of the women had never shared their experiences with anyone. It’s no wonder why 100% of CFR retreat participants say they’d recommend it to others.
Dani obviously has fond memories from the retreat and has stayed in touch with many of her fellow participants. Some time after her retreat, Dani was hospitalized by her battle with cancer again. During her hospitalization, her fellow retreat participants created a huge and elaborate scrapbook of their retreat for her and several of the participants visited her. The scrapbook was overflowing with retreat memories—each participant created a few pages for her. Full of photos of smiling women in waders, hugging and holding fish, as well as words of encouragement, the scrapbook was moving and a symbol of their bond. Through cancer and fly fishing, they have created a new family.
While on the river last fall, Dani’s vest was decked out with memorabilia from her Casting for Recovery experience. An eye-catching pink and purple fly, CFR’s signature symbol, was prominently displayed on her vest. She was smiling on that day, with a twinkle in her eye. The moving water obviously provided a peaceful and private place to share and enjoy the river, the bugs, the great outdoors and the fish.
Dani’s story is moving and inspirational, and just one of thousands CFR has been part of. She describes herself as a very lucky person, “I just have cancer.” -Morgan R. Buckert