If you would have asked me a year ago if I had ever thought about going fly fishing, my answer would have been “No”.
I don’t particularly like fish, and the last time I went fishing was probably with my grandfather when I wasn’t even a teenager. I was his only granddaughter, and therefore I did not have to put the worm on the hook or take the fish off the hook if we were fortunate enough to catch anything. My grandfather did all of that for me. All I had to do was hold the rod, sit in the boat and enjoy the day on the lake.
So when some friends suggested I go on a retreat for women with metastatic breast cancer with Casting For Recovery needless to say I was a little skeptical.
I submitted my application and promptly forgot about it until I got the notification that I had been selected to participate. I have been trying to stretch outside of my comfort zone and explore new things this year. As the weekend started to get closer I found myself getting excited about trying another new thing. For me, it has been about adventure and this was going to be another adventure for me. If I liked it great, and if I didn’t then it was just one weekend.
We arrived on Friday afternoon, and the volunteers were all incredibly friendly. They were excited to meet all of the participants and genuinely happy to be spending the weekend with this group of metastatic breast cancer women and share their love of fly fishing.
We came from different parts of Texas, but we all had one thing in common: Metastatic Breast Cancer. Some of us were older, some younger, some with husbands/boyfriends, some without. But we instantly bonded with one another.
I thought I was just there to get some fly-fishing lessons and then go out to the river and practice what we had learned. I quickly found out there was so much more to the weekend than I ever imagined. There were several indications of how this would be more than just a fly fishing weekend:
#1: the first person I met upon check-in smiled and told me her first name. That didn’t seem odd until I realized she was an oncologist and was here to give additional support to us throughout the weekend. Maybe you aren’t like me, but I don’t usually call doctors by their first names. It was so refreshing to meet her and get to know her as an individual who has a passion for fly fishing and a passion for caring for her patients.
#2: Although I did know another participant prior to the retreat, everyone I met was so grateful for the opportunity to come together with others who understood what they were going through. In Austin, we are extremely fortunate to have access to many resources that I have taken for granted. We have a wonderful organization for women diagnosed with Breast Cancer called the Breast Cancer Resource Center. Several of the women mentioned that this was the first time they were able to connect with other women with #MBC.
#3: Friday was about getting our equipment and getting to know one another. We had an evening activity learning to tie a fly. I can’t say that my fly came out exactly as planned, but it wasn’t about that. The volunteers assisted but didn’t take over and let us each create our unique fly. Then they gave us a box full of flies that were made just for those of us on the retreat. People whom I have never met, thought it was important to share their gift of time and love of tying flies to make flies for women who may never even take them out of the box.
#4: the agenda had two opportunities to learn and practice the art of casting. I’m here to tell you that what you see in the movies (i.e. Brad Pitt in A River Runs Through It) makes it seem a lot easier than it actually is. It really is an art form and I had no idea that so much thought went into fly fishing. We practiced, we were coached on how to hold the rod, how to let the line out and even what to do if we did catch a fish. But more than that, we learned that having a rod in our hands was a good way to forget about why this particular group had come together and enjoy the beauty of nature around us.
#5: Saturday afternoon we had the opportunity to sit down and ask the oncologist (the one that I knew by first name now) any questions. I’m usually quiet during these discussions because as I have written before I sometimes feel like a fraud around others with #MBC. During this discussion, I realized I have the opportunity to offer hope to others – although not everyone stated how long they have been living with #MBC, I think I was the one with the most longevity (9 years) and was able to offer hope to those who have not been living with it for as long as I have.
#6: God has a way of putting people in your path to help you grow or to help you discover how far you have come. Sunday morning we went to the river. There we were assigned a river helper. Each one of us had an experienced fisherman/woman to assist us with our fishing experience. They were there to tie the flies on the hook, assist us with our casting (if for some reason we hooked a tree instead of a fish), if we were fortunate enough to catch a fish they would help with bringing it in and taking it off the hook and throwing it back in the river (we were doing catch and release only). I was paired with a very nice gentleman who had been a river guide for these retreats for several years. We began to talk and I soon learned that his wife had been on one of these retreats. We discovered we had more in common when he told me he was a widower. I am grateful that he wanted to continue to be involved with Casting for Recovery after losing his wife. We talked about how unfair it was that our spouses were taken from us by such an awful disease. I confided that although I wish my husband was still here, I am thankful for the time we had together and while I believe he still watches out for me, he would like me to be happy and make memories while I am still able. I shared my motto “I will choose to do what I can, when I can, while I can.” And that was why I had applied to participate in this retreat.
I left the retreat Sunday afternoon and reflected more on the conversations I had with the participants and the volunteers than thinking about the fact that I did not catch a fish – which I now realize was the real reason I am grateful for the opportunity for this retreat and others like it.
The question remains if I will go fly fishing again. I think I will. I appreciated the mindfulness of being in nature and the art of the casting. I’ve even found a shop near me where I can learn more about fly tying.