Casting for Recovery
Wading slowly up a clear hidden stream, listening to the water tumble over glistening rocks, casting a line to a sly trout holding still under a shadowy overhang—fly fishing is one of the most peaceful and non stressful of sports. It takes patience and concentration, but it also removes the angler from everyday concerns. Nearly twenty years ago two women, both fly fishers, envisioned a unique plan for women in recovery from breast cancer that would incorporate these qualities. The participants would spend a healing weekend at a riverside lodge, where they would talk about their treatment, provide emotional support to one another and receive professional counseling and physical therapy by learning to fly fish.
Fishing as physical therapy? Yes indeed. Watch a fly fisher cast a line, and you’ll see the motion is similar to exercises that help to stretch the soft tissues and joints damaged in cancer surgery and that are often prescribed for post-operative and post-radiation patients. The women were Gwenn Perkins, a fly fishing guide from Manchester, and Dr. Benita Walton, a psychiatrist and reconstructive surgeon, who at the time worked in western New Hampshire. “The major portion of my practice was reconstructive surgery for breast cancer patients,” Dr. Walton says. But, as a psychiatrist, “I recognized that post-diagnosis patients were not getting a chance to speak with their peers.”
Their idea became Casting for Recovery, begun in Manchester in 1996. CFR is now a national program and this year will offer 50 retreats in 33 states, having served more than 4500 breast cancer survivors. There are similar organizations in Canada, the UK/Ireland and Australia. “The headquarters are still in Manchester,” says Margot Page, CFR Director of Communications. “Casting for Recovery reflects the Vermont character of volunteerism, compassion, generosity and care for the natural world. There’s a little piece of Vermont in the program even though it’s now nationwide.”