Casting for Recovery: Breast Cancer Survivors Find Solace in Fishing
October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, a month to recognize the struggle and strength of those fighting breast cancer, survivors, and all family and friends affected by this disease that will strike one in eight U.S. women in the course of her lifetime.
Breast cancer survivor Carly Firth from Rigby, Idaho is only 29-years-old. It was a shock to her, her doctor, and her family for someone so young to be diagnosed with breast cancer. Firth found a lump in one of her breasts in December of 2018 and was convinced by her husband to go have it checked out. After an ultrasound and biopsy, the diagnosis was in: breast cancer. Firth’s story is relatively short and a positive one: after being diagnosed in January 2019, her breast was removed in February, and then after doing eight rounds of chemo between March and July, she is now cancer-free.
But the struggle came in continuing her work and being a mother to her daughters, ages 4 and 1.
“I work from home which was such a blessing,” Firth said. “I teach kids in China English and work online.” Since her work involves a different time zone, Firth works 3am-7am and then starts her day as a mother to her own kids. Firth found support in her community and from her mother who was able to come spend time with her but Firth truly found the camaraderie of fellow breast cancer patients and survivors at Casting for Recovery, a non-profit founded in 1996 to provide healing outdoor retreats for women with breast cancer at no cost to the participants.
Firth recently participated in a retreat in Challis in September with 13 other women in various stages of breast cancer treatment and recovery.
“Online there are plenty of support groups but I live in the small town of Rigby. I heard about Casting for Recovery and I’m an outdoors person so I decided to try something new. I’m not much of a fisherwoman but it was great just having the camaraderie of other people who get it and understand what it is to go through breast cancer without having to explain things.”
That camaraderie, paired with the healing activity of fishing (it turns out the gentle motion of fly casting can be good physical therapy for increasing mobility in the arm and upper body of women who have had surgery or radiation as part of their breast cancer treatment) is what it’s all about for those behind Casting for Recovery. In addition to the fly fishing, there are also three psycho-social sessions and one medical session for the women.
“The fly fishing is wonderful but I think the bonds the women make and what they share with each other is really helpful to them,” says Kathryn Maiben, Eastern Idaho Program Coordinator for the organization.
Maiben is herself a breast cancer survivor like many who work with Casting for Recovery. After getting diagnosed in February of 2015, Maiben received a slew of treatments from a lumpectomy to a second one to a bilateral mastectomy, six rounds of chemo, and 30 rounds of radiation which ended in September 2015.
“I’m four years cancer-free,” Maiben said. “It’s still scary to talk about.”
Maiben attended her own Casting for Recovery retreat in Challis in 2017 and fell in love with the program so much that she asked to be involved in any way possible.
“Being out in nature is really healing. It’s healing for our hearts and souls, it makes us connected to life again,” Maiben said.
Maiben emphasizes the importance of the bonding these women find on the retreats, citing that 70% of the women who attend them say they don’t have any support groups back home.
“When undergoing treatments, there’s a ton of doctor visits, friends coming and bringing food. But when you’re done with treatment, friends kind of fade off and doctors tell you to go live your life. All of the sudden, you feel pretty alone because someone who hasn’t gone through cancer doesn’t understand all the changes that saying, ‘You have cancer’ does to you. But you go to a retreat like this with a bunch of women who are in the same situation as you are, you don’t feel as alone.”
Casting for Recovery has retreats across the United States and in Idaho, retreats in the northern, southwestern, and eastern parts of the state. For more information visit castingforrecovery.org.
BOXOUT: Fast Facts
· Casting for Recovery provides free fly fishing retreats for women with breast cancer
· 70% of the women who attend Casting for Recovery retreats have never been to a support group
· CfR currently offers 60 retreats across the country, serving 800+ women each year. To date 8,000+ women have been served
· CfR relies on the support of more than 1,600 volunteers nationwide, including medical and psychosocial professionals, fly fishing instructors and alumnae
· National sponsors include Cabela’s Outdoor Fund, Stevinson Automotive, Sage, Simms, Ashford Hospitality Trust and Orvis, River’s Edge Fly Shop, and Pfizer.
· CfR has international program partners in Canada, UK/Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and Italy.
This story originally appeared in Idaho Press.