MOSCOW, Vt. — Spaced out up and down a stretch of the Little River, more than a dozen women stand in the moving water in overall waders casting fly rods, some for the first time.
The women — all breast cancer survivors in different stages of treatment and recovery — are taking part in a free weekend fly-fishing retreat that offers them more than fishing. The event, held each spring by the nonprofit Casting for Recovery, covers the basics of fly-fishing while offering the women support, counseling, medical information and relaxation. Similar retreats are held throughout the country.
“It’s been amazing,” said Sue Cappucci, of Boscawen, New Hampshire, as she sat in a chair taking a break from fly-fishing last month.
“The fly-fishing is definitely a great part of it, but I think the whole package, you know, the meeting the women and just feeling the support,” she said. “I haven’t had a lot of support. It’s hard to find a good support group, so this has been a good weekend for me.”
The program was founded in Manchester, Vermont, in 1996 by a breast cancer surgeon and a female fly-fishing guide with the theory that the gentle motion of fly casting would be physically therapeutic for women who have had surgery or radiation.
Being in nature, on a river, in a beautiful setting with birds singing, also can be healing, said Sheila Reid, the program director for Casting for Recovery Vermont and New Hampshire.
The women can take part in a medical discussion with volunteer medical and psychological staff covering topics the women want to learn about. On Saturday evening, they can participate in a support group. Topics may be about fear of cancer recurring, pain, body image, relationships, sexuality and other struggles.
“They talk about their struggles and then they also talk about their joys in people that they’ve met, and where the path has taken them,” said Barb Lynch, a clinical psychologist who volunteers on the retreats.
Some participants too weak to stand for long periods can fish from chairs.
For Pam O’Neil, of East Dorset, Vermont, it was one of the most relaxing and peaceful weekends she’s had a long time, also one of the program’s goals.
“They covered everything that they could possibly cover as far as wellness and medical, as far as spirituality through fishing, and being able to relax,” she said.
Many of the volunteers are men whose wives, mothers, sisters or friends have had breast cancer, said Reid. Some of the women will open up to them and talk about things that they may not have talked about even with friends at home, she said.
“Every one of the experiences has stuck with me,” said Rhey Plumley, who has volunteered for four years and whose mother died of breast cancer. “I treasure those moments and it’s really nice that I can do that.”
As the women and volunteers dotted the Little River, word came over a walkie-talkie: One of the women had caught a small-mouthed bass up near the falls.
“Somebody caught a fish. Somebody caught a fish,” Reid said. “That’s fantastic.”
— Lisa Rathke