Casting for Recovery

By | Mon March 2, 2015

One of the things I mentioned in passing during my crazy busy week last week is that I was selected to attend a free weekend retreat for breast cancer survivors. The retreat is called Casting for Recovery (http://castingforrecovery.org) and uses learning how to fly fish as the basis for discussion and processing the breast cancer journey. When I first heard about the retreat, I could not wait to add my name to list. I am truly honored to have been selected the first time I applied. Many women apply for several years before they are invited to attend.

Some of my fondest childhood memories are of fishing for trout in the creek and right off the bridge in Kemano. We didn’t do fly fish, rather we cast-and-reel fishing. I didn’t realize it at the time, but what I loved most about fishing was being on the water. It has more do with getting out in nature and exploring different rivers and creeks then it was about the fishing (although the fresh rainbow trout was always a great reward).

I was taught at a young age that I must not fish without a fishing license. In Kemano, we were so isolated that such things didn’t always make sense, but we did it because it was the right thing to do. So, every year, even when I was too young to need it, I had a fishing license.

I mentioned in my original post, that although I am very much looking forward to Casting for Recovery, it also poses and ethical dilemma for me. You see, all my life, fishing has been about food. I’ve never really practiced catch-and-release fishing. In northern BC, the fish we catch are good to eat. Mostly we fished for trout in the rivers and lakes, and for those who wanted a little more excitement, we fished for salmon. When we had our sail boat, we would go out deep sea fishing. I liked bottom fishing because I was generally more successful at it (we sometimes caught crab on our fishing lines, and often came home with fresh snapper and halibut), but it was much more exciting to go salmon fishing while under sail. My job was to “get the net” anytime we caught something. It was a crazy chaos when we hooked a fish, as we need to stop the boat from moving forward (putting it into the “hove to” position) while someone was reeling in the fishing rod and I was preparing the net to get the fish on the boat – all in a 6 foot by 4 foot space that was the cockpit of our little 24 foot sail boat.

Anyways, I digress. My ethical dilemma is that I don’t like the idea of catch-and-release fishing. I am challenged by torturing fish. It is one thing to kill a fish when you intend on eating it, but it poses another challenge to me to just hook it for sport and return it injured to the water – where it may or may not survive. I talked briefly to the person from Casting for Recovery about this. One solution that I have come up with is to fish without a hook. Fly fishing is so much more about the elegance of the motion, then it is about actually catching a fish. The motion is one that is particularly heeling for those who have undergone treatment for breast cancer – the overhead gentle movements of casting do a great job of providing drainage for a damaged lymph system as well as helping to increase range-of-motion (one of the treatments most women with breast cancer undergo is a sentinel node biopsy, which involves removing a couple of lymph nodes under the arm pits – if there is no cancer then they only remove a couple – if there is cancer, they do a full axial node dissection removing more – in either case, you have incisions under the arms that can impact your range-of-motion).

Another aspect of fly fishing that I hope we cover in the workshops is how to tie flies. Instead of buying lures, which are used in more traditional cast-and-reel fishing, part of the joy of fly fishing is to create your own flies – although this too can be a point of frustration – I remember fishing with my father and losing a fish because the fly wasn’t secured properly! Tieing flies will also prove to be interesting for me with my finger neuropathy – it involves some fine motor skills that will prove to be an interesting test. So, if I can tie my own flies, then in theory, I can create flies without hooks. That way, if a fish bites, it can still spit it out and not be harmed by the fish hook. Either way, I see myself participating in the retreat as a way to help heal my wounds – both physical and mental – it will be good for me!

My other concern is that of spending an entire weekend talking about breast cancer. I’m a bit worried about my anxiety levels as I very intentionally don’t read about cancer in the two hours before bed each night. I am reminded of the BCC conference I went to – the conference itself was good but I left on a low note – because the last speaker of the day was not uplifting. Creating a program that is well balanced and ensures that at the end people leave feeling well is difficult. But then I think, who wouldn’t want to spend a weekend at a lodge in northern California? I’m encouraged by the women who have participated in the program – and hope that it turns into positive and renewing experience for me.

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