Cast for Recovery gives women with breast cancer respite, fly rod in hand

Posted July 31, 2012, at 4:33 p.m.

OQUOSSOC, Maine — The women at the Casting for Recovery retreat held July 6-8 at Bald Mountain Camps in Oquossoc were there for two reasons — to get respite from the daily weight of dealing with breast cancer and to have fun. They also were there to learning to fly cast, taught by Registered Maine Guide Bonnie Holding.

Holding volunteered her fly casting skills for a weekend a few years back when she attended a health symposium at Bowdoin College, where she heard a woman talk about Casting for Recovery.

“I was somewhat naive and had no idea what volunteering entailed,” she said. But after more than 10 years with the program, she is now one of the prime organizers of the Casting for Recovery retreat in Maine.

Casting for Recovery had its beginnings in 1996 in Vermont when a breast reconstruction surgeon and a fly fisherman, both women, went fishing. The organization’s mission is to provide fly fishing retreats tailored for women who have or have had breast cancer. The retreats are designed to promote and support mental and physical healing. Only 14 participants are accepted for each retreat and they are chosen by a lottery system. Those whose names are drawn attend the retreat free of charge.

Why fly fishing?

“The casting motion mimics some of the motions of soft tissue recovery used in therapy,” Holding said. But it’s much more than that.

“At the first retreat I went to, I was teaching a woman to cast. I saw her shoulders start to shake and at first I thought she was laughing, then I realized she was sobbing. She was crying, she told me, because as she struggled with trying to figure out how to cast the line it was the first time in two years she had thought of something other than being sick. She told me it felt like a boulder had been lifted off her shoulders. I see that kind of response every year at Casting for Recovery.”

The retreat has been held at different locations each year, including in Eustis, Grand Lake Stream, Ashland, Wilson’s Mills, Rockwood and Middle Dam on the Richardson Lakes in Rangeley. Next year’s location has yet to be determined. Therapists, medical professionals and instructors volunteer their time to staff the retreat.

“The first evening everyone gets introduced and they all become friends in the first five minutes, as if they were young girls at summer camp,” Holding said. “For most of them, they are stepping outside the box; they have never fly fished before. They hang out, chat. I try to make things as lighthearted as possible. I pass around Jiffy Pops and we make s’mores. I teach them how to cast and tie the knots related to fly fishing, but there’s time for swimming, canoeing, kayaking, or to just sit and be. On Sunday they put on waders and off they go to fish for trout and salmon, or whatever they can catch.”

Although the retreat is free to women with breast cancer from throughout Maine, each retreat costs $10,000-$12,000, and those funds must be raised, primarily through the Fish Tails and Cocktails silent auction and raffle held in February at Sugarloaf. Holding said it takes many volunteers organize the event. Retreat alumni also raise funds. T-shirts adorned with an image of brook trout created by artist Georgette Kanach of Gray are sold to raise funds. And artist Vito DeVito of Long Island, N.Y., raises funds for Casting for Recovery through sales of a print of a painting of Holding and her husband, Blaine, in a canoe at Steep Bank Pool on the Kennebago River.

National sponsors of Casting for Recovery include The Harford, L.L. Bean, Smartwool, Under Armour and Sisters on the Fly.

But all the effort is well worth it, Holding said, when she recalls the woman from Iowa who attended the retreat several years ago. The woman had never done anything on her own until then. She got on the plane alone to fly east where she had never been. She drove alone to the camp over terrain unfamiliar to her and she saw her first moose. She didn’t want to fish. She wanted to stand in the water in waders in the current with her arms in the air. “It’s just washing all this stuff away,” she told Holding.

To learn more about Casting for Recovery in Maine, to donate auction goods or otherwise assist with fundraising, call Holding at 246-4102 or email edgeofme@yahoo.com. For additional information, visit castingforrecovery.org.

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