Women wearing baseball caps with pink flies are seated around an edge of a pond with jitters in their stomach. For many of them it is their first time fly fishing. With the assistance of a trained instructor, each of them casts their line into the water and meters of line float through the air. Suddenly someone yells with excitement that they have caught something. Everyone starts watching. A trout is pulled out of clear water. The lucky fisher takes a photo with the trout and the fish is released back into the wild. It appears like a regular fishing experience- except for one thing. All these women have experienced breast cancer.
Casting for Recovery Canada was founded by Kathryn Maroun and her husband, Lou Maroun in 2004 and is a not-for-profit program for women who have had or had breast cancer.
Maroun teaches the participants how to catch and release fish in a way that causes them the least trauma. "It brings them terrific joy because they have endured and they have fought a good fight just like the fish they're holding in their hand, to be able to take the fish and wish it well and let it go on that way is very symbolic," says Maroun.
Maroun, a professional fly fisher spent years volunteering at the sister program in the United States before deciding to create the Canadian version. "What I found year after year was that this program was very important and I felt badly that the women in Canada didn't have this opportunity," says Maroun.
Each year, the program takes as many as 70 women on free weekend retreats that are held coast to coast in Canada. "So we could be fishing in B.C. or Prince Edward Island or up in Labrador" she says. "It could be everywhere." This year the retreats will begin in July and go until October. Participants at her weekend retreat learn the fundamentals of fly fishing, knot-tying and the equipment basics.
For Peggy Manning, 44, a former participant and current volunteer the retreats are about life and living. She has been on fly-fishing retreats in Ontario, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland and Labrador. "It's just wonderful just to stand in the water and have the water go around your legs or sit in the water," says Manning. "Your focus is that weekend; you can leave your worries at home. It's just very peaceful."
For Maroun, she wants to make sure that the women have fun. The women are able to participate in as much or as little as they want. "It's really for them and it's not about cancer," says Maroun." It's all about just having a getaway weekend of fun and meeting like minded people and treating themselves so that they can recharge their batteries, but at the same time they are learning a new sport for life."
One of the former participants, Betty Trach, 52 didn't catch a fish, but she still enjoyed the experience in Mount Albert, Ontario. "I managed to hook a fish but it got away from beneath," she says. "Just getting away and being pampered it was almost like you've been through so much, it was nice to have something supportive and people that cared and wanted to make sure that we had a really good time."
Lymphedema, a condition that causes painful swelling in the arms and upper body is a common side effect of chemotherapy for women who are undergoing treatment for breast cancer. About 1 in 5 women who have had breast cancer will get lymphedema.
"I think one of the things that happen when you've had a diagnosis of breast cancer is that you lose some of your own self-empowerment," says Trach. "Your shoulder doesn't necessarily work as well as it did and sometimes people are worried that you shouldn't be even doing things that you normally do with your shoulder because it's going to make things worse."
Fly fishing is a gentle exercise that helps strengthen the shoulder and arm muscles. "What happens with fishing they are getting a lot of physical activity and they're not evening realizing that this is happening because they are so focused on trying to catch a fish that they don't realize that they're pushing and pulling stretching with their arms," says Maroun. "It's not only a physical workout, but it's emotionally a very uplifting and it's a workout emotionally as well."
One of the mental benefits of fly fishing is relaxation. "In order to fly fish, you have to be relaxed, you can't be tense because you don't get the right rhythm and you end up with tangled up chunk of line," says Trach. "I think you can't think about what's happening with your health when you're thinking about something like that."
Some of the participants will leave the retreat and continue the sport. "It's something you can learn on the weekend, but you need the lifetime perfecting," says Maroun. "They have learned everything they will need to know to go off on their own and go fishing and even teach their kids or their husbands." Trach is planning to fly fish with her husband this summer.
"With spring it's a rebirth, you see the crocuses coming out and the tulips breaking the hard ground. It's the same thing with the women," says Maroun. "When they arrive they are very closed because they don't know anyone, and it's like the hard soil and they're kind of a shell." However, as the weekend progresses, the women open up and bond with one another.
"People were talking about past experiences, health experiences because we were all breast cancer survivors," says Trach. She has kept in touch with some of the participants over the year through email.
"You have to be there to experience it and to know what's its like really," says Manning. "People think why are you going fish for, but it's not the fishing; the fishing is just the bonus- it's about life."