Casting for Recovery

Thursday, October 28, 2010
In Recognition of Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Four years ago, my sister, Amy, was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Her treatment – six rounds of chemo, two surgeries and 33 sessions of radiation – took a toll on her right shoulder.  Her surgeon suggested some basic exercises for strength and mobility.  She also started swimming laps.  She liked being buoyant in the warm water and found the backstroke especially helpful. 

Not long afterward, she took up another new activity – fly-fishing. She initially borrowed a friend’s equipment, including an instructional DVD by the first lady of fly-fishing, Joan Wulff.  As she practiced casting in the backyard, she discovered the gentle, fluid motion was an ideal way to rehabilitate her shoulder.  It was also peaceful and soothing.  She talked about the sensations she experienced her first time on the Uwharrie River – forcing her way into the water in heavy waders filled with air, finding her footing along the rocky bottom, standing steady against the current and letting the water flow past her.  She sat on a submerged rock and watched a mayfly drift by.  She’d never seen the river from that perspective.  Simply being on the river was more important than the actual fishing.  There was a lot of healing in that river. 

I recently learned about a program that promotes the very thing Amy had gravitated toward.  Casting for Recovery (CFR) holds weekend retreats for breast cancer survivors.  The program combines fly-fishing instruction, medical information and counseling.  It also provides camaraderie for women who might not have access to, or interest in, a typical support group.

Established in 1996, CFR is a national non-profit organization with retreats across the United States and in countries such as England, Ireland and New Zealand.  The North Carolina retreat is held in May and August at the Lake Logan Episcopal Center in Canton.  To make the retreat accessible, there is no cost to participants.  Unfortunately, availability is limited.  Three women apply for every slot, so spaces are awarded by lottery.   Even though volunteers staff the retreats, the NC program still needs to raise $20,000 per year to cover basic expenses.  For information about submitting an application or making a donation, go to or call 1-888-553-3500.

A woman might have to apply several times before being selected to attend a retreat.  In the meantime, the Uwharries have pristine rivers and creeks, far too many women who’ve had breast cancer, and plenty of fly-fishermen (and women) to act as mentors. 

Amy’s kids share her love of the Uwharrie River.  In a recent school assignment, her son Lee wrote that “the Low Water Bridge is one of the coolest places in NC.”  Sometimes they stop just long enough to wade or throw a few rocks, but on occasion she takes along her fly rod and shows them how to cast.  I like to think she’ll be able to enjoy that protected stretch of river for many years to come.  I imagine her, gray-haired and spunky like Joan Wulff, out there at the Low Water Bridge with her grandkids, teaching them about fly-fishing and about the strength and grace it takes to navigate a current in a rocky river.

-- Ruth Ann Grissom

Photos by Amy Grissom