Depression is a familiar companion to many women dealing with cancer.
But emerging from last month’s Casting For Recovery program, one participant discovered she’d reeled in some hope.
“Thanks for the launching point this weekend,” she told organizers after spending time with other women dealing with cancer.
Fourteen women gathered at the Big K Guest Ranch near Elkton Sept. 7 through 9 for the ninth annual Casting For Recovery. They shared their stories, they learned about fly fishing, they stood in the flowing, soothing waters of the Umpqua River. And they casted, in hopes of catching a smallmouth bass.
Their common bond was breast cancer. Each has been diagnosed and was in some stage of coping with the disease.
“We want to teach, to show them, there is life after breast cancer,” said Casting for Recovery organizer Carol LaBranche. “This is a type of release for them. It provides them with another support group.”
LaBranche, who works for Umpqua Bank in Roseburg, was diagnosed with the disease in 1997 at age 37.
In 2004, LaBranche was a founding member of Casting For Recovery in Oregon. The program had been established nationally in 1996 in Vermont by Dr. Benita Walton, a breast cancer reconstructive surgeon, and Gwenn Perkins, a professional fly fisher. They reasoned that the natural world is a healing force and that the fly casting action is good exercise and therapy for breast cancer survivors.
Walton and Perkins believed cancer survivors deserved one weekend free of charge and free of stresses. The retreats also incorporate counseling, educational services and presentations from health care professionals.
“Thank you for the reawakening to life.” — Casting For Recovery participant
Glenda Vickery of Roseburg was diagnosed with cancer 15 years ago. She underwent a lumpectomy, radiation and chemotherapy. She took part in Oregon’s first Casting For Recovery in 2004.
“It connected you with other women who had breast cancer,” Vickery said. “There was a bond between the women that I can’t even describe. You realize every woman who goes through breast cancer has a different story, but because you’ve been through it, you feel you know how those women feel. You get it.”
Vicki Johnston of Roseburg, who attended this year’s gathering, said she believes the program offers physical and mental benefits. She was diagnosed with breast cancer on New Year’s eve, 2008. She had surgery the following January and then again in February.
Casting for Recovery offers “a release to be around women who are going through the same thing, who know what you’re going through,” Johnston said.
In developing the Oregon retreat, organizers considered several sites around the state. They sought a place that provided medical facilities, semi-private housing and access to fishable water.
“The Big K fit the bill for us,” LaBranche said. “It’s the perfect place. It’s become our permanent location.”
Breast cancer survivors and staff gather Friday afternoon. Introductions are made before dinner. Discussion on fly fishing equipment and a campfire gathering complete the day.
Saturday morning opens with a casting demonstration and practice, followed by an advanced casting demonstration and more practice.
After lunch, attendees hear a presentation on the physical effects of breast cancer. Afternoon sessions focus on knot tying and what fish eat. After dinner, participants talk about the emotional effects of breast cancer.
By Sunday morning, the women, geared up in waders, are ready to step into the waters of the Umpqua River and put their fly fishing knowledge into action. Each woman is accompanied by a volunteer assistant, casting and fishing for a couple of hours.
“My body is tired but my spirit is renewed. I leave with memories of strong, beautiful women and a new experience to build on. I leave with the information that will help me to continue on as a survivor.” — participant
Kim DeVries of Roseburg has been a staff member and volunteer for all of the retreats. She hasn’t had cancer, but has friends who do.
“I’m a very outdoorsy person and for me, there’s something very healing about being outside, letting things wash away,” she said. “When things seem bad, this gives you a chance to focus on something else.”
Pete Zech, a member of the Umpqua Valley Flyfishers, helped participants in the river on the last day of this year’s gathering.
“It was all about fishing,” he said. “I didn’t hear any discussions of disease or problems. Everybody focused on what we were doing, down at the river trying to catch a smallmouth.
“It was pretty inspirational, seeing all those ladies at the river giving it their best,” he added.
Only a handful of fish were caught, and released. But the women waded out of the river with smiles.
“It’s a very quiet, very peaceful serene kind of surroundings,” said Johnston. “The running water, the birds — it’s a very calming type of setting. You can enjoy it even if you’re not catching fish.”
“It’s totally beautiful, relaxing, being on the river,” said Vickery.
It costs $14,000 to stage Casting for Recovery event at the Big K. Purchasing a fishing license is the only fee participants pay.
Financial help comes for the national founding group, which has major sponsors. Locally, a golf tournament, quilt raffle, fishing rod raffle and other donations help meet the budget.
LaBranche characterized this year’s get-together as a success.
“I’m very proud of what we’ve established here,” she said.
“CFR remains a blessing in my life, since it empowered me to grow and expand my horizons.” — participant
• You can reach News-Review Features Editor Craig Reed by phone at 541-957-4210 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.