More than two dozen men and women surrounded a Gardnerville pond Friday morning as they spent the spring day fly fishing.
But, this is no ordinary fly fishing excursion. This is part of the Casting for Recovery retreat for breast cancer patients to learn fly fishing as a therapeutic technique. Fourteen women and their volunteer fishing guides surrounded Jim and Maryann Bentley’s pond as they reeled in fish after fish through the morning.
The atmosphere was lighthearted and fun; squeals of joy and encouragement could be heard around the pond as the women caught fish throughout the morning, kissed them for good luck and threw them back in the pond.
All of the women are in some stage of breast cancer, but for them the day is about forgetting their diagnosis and having fun.
“It is powerful, emotional and fantastic,” said Catie Lambie, one of the participants. “I am so grateful to everyone who puts this on. It is really special and I want to thank everyone who made this possible, we get to stay in a beautiful place and catch fish.”
Lambie has had a double mastectomy after being diagnosed with breast cancer in 2006. Both of her sisters also had breast cancer, with her younger sister passing away last year from it. Lambie was living in a small Alaskan village teaching math when she got the diagnosis her cancer came back recently, so she had to leave her job and move back to Northern Nevada for treatment.
“Everything changed with cancer, but I am getting my life back,” Lambie said. “I am 68 and I am not done yet.”
For her, Casting for Recovery was an emotional experience, tearing up as she explained what the program meant to her.
“I cried when I got my first fish,” Lambie said. “But this, to be out in nature and to be alive and doing stuff, is really cool.”
For the women, the retreat is much more than just about fishing. It’s about bonding with each other and forgetting — even if just for a few days — their troubles.
“It is a great experience beyond fishing,” said volunteer Ann Millard. “(Fishing) is the icing on the cake, but the whole experience is life changing.”
“We see a huge change in them from the moment they get here to when they leave,” added volunteer Terra Maddox of Carson Tahoe Hospital. “They bond and make life long friends and connections.”
The retreat is two and a half days, with the women arriving at David Walley’s Hot Springs Resort Wednesday afternoon.
“They really rolled out the red carpet for us,” said Millard. “They treated us like royalty.”
On Thursday they learned how to fly fish, from what techniques and bait to use to what the fish like to eat; then on Friday, the women spent the morning putting their skills in action and catching rainbow trout in the pond.
Casting for Recovery is an international program, started after two physicians in Vermont discovered the motion of fly fishing is similar to the rehabilitation movements used for women post-mastectomy surgery.
“It helps strengthen chest muscles,” Millard said. “It is the motion with fly fishing that is like the therapy for rehab.”
Millard said it’s movements like used in fishing that helps combat the physical effects of breast cancer such as lymphedema.
To participate the women fill out an application for the Casting for Recovery in their area and then are chosen in a lottery for who will be able to attend. The program attracts women from all over Nevada and California and there’s always a new group of women each year.
It has been hosted by Carson Tahoe Hospital and sponsored by GE Bently for 16 years and each year Jim and Maryann stock the pond full of trout for the women to catch.
“We like to give back to the community,” Maryann said. “...And we hope the gals have fun.”
For her the event is personal, as both her sister and aunt were diagnosed with breast cancer.
“This would have been nice for (my sister),” Maryann said. “It is fun for the ladies because they get to come together with ladies in the same boat and forget about their worries for a few hours and enjoy the day.”
The retreat is made possible because of the Bunco for Breast Cancer fundraiser, Carson Tahoe Cancer Center-affiliate of Huntsman Cancer Institute, University of Utah and GE Bently host at the Carson Valley Inn each year.
The fundraiser generates enough funds so the women at the retreat don’t have to pay a dime for their three-day vacation for lodging or food.
Maddox said the whole program wouldn’t even be possible without the help of all their incredible volunteers. Fly fishers from the Angler’s Edge, High Sierra Fly Casters, and Sierra Fishin’ Chicks volunteer to instruct and guide the women through the process along with the volunteers Liz Weirauch, Jill Mustaccio, Maddox and Millard.
“We couldn’t do it without the fishing clubs,” Weirauch said. “We had so many people that wanted to be a part of it, we were swatting volunteers away.”