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Casting for Recovery: Bringing Fly Fishing to Breast Cancer Survivors

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Casting for Recovery is a healing program for breast cancer survivors that connects the women with each other and nature while teaching them the new skill of fly fishing.

A breast reconstruction surgeon and a professional fly fisher began with a simple idea: the gentle, rhythmic motion of fly casting can increase mobility in the arm and upper body and is similar to the exercise prescribed to treat the soft-muscle tissue damaged by surgery or radiation. It provides women with an opportunity to escape all that a breast cancer diagnosis brings by giving them a safe space to connect with other breast cancer survivors and nature, while teaching fly fishing as a reprieve from the everyday stresses and challenges of their cancer – this can speed their recovery.

The 2-and-a-half day retreats, staffed by a supportive volunteer team, are held in settings away from the stresses of home, work, and family. The typical agenda is the women arrive on Friday and have an initial meet and greet. All day Saturday there are lessons in casting, fishing gear, knots, water safety, what fish eat, fly tying. There are discussions on medical education, quality of life after a cancer diagnosis, how breast cancer has impacted their lives; all facilitated by trained medical professionals. Then there is free time for the ladies to connect with each other. It ends with a half-day of guided catch-and-release fly fishing on the river. The results, in addition to the physical benefits, are the emotional support of other survivors and the chance to experience the healing power of nature. The retreat is for body and mind equally.

Women at any age and any stage of treatment or recovery from breast cancer are eligible and may apply to attend the retreat nearest to them. Women complete an online application or submit an application by mail or fax. For each retreat, 14 women are chosen by a lottery drawing and are notified by the Casting for Recovery national office. Fishing experience is not required to participate. The retreats provide the fishing gear, instructors, guides, meals, and lodging, all free of charge.

Support comes in many forms, and the easiest one is simply to spread the word.

"Tell people about us, mention our name and what we do, and encourage ladies to apply. Volunteering to help guide at a retreat is a good way to support us, as is donating flies. Our guides have always remarked on the joy they feel when they help a lady catch a fish. You can also support CFR by making a financial donation. As a nonprofit, Casting for Recovery depends on the generosity of supporters," officials said.

You can apply online at their website.

You can also contact Sherry Barnhard, the Arkansas Program Coordinator, for information about support and volunteering at

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