I had just arrived back to the house on my bike when my parents pulled in the driveway. It was 1970 and I was five years-old. I had been visiting a cousin the next lane up from ours on the rural route, when my aunt told me my father had called and it was time for me to head home. I parked my bike and greeted mom and dad as they exited the car. Instead of the usual cheery hug and kiss on the cheek, mom insisted we join my siblings in the house for a family meeting. A few days prior, mom had discovered a small lump in her right breast while applying antiperspirant. As mom and dad sat at the table, explaining to us kids what mom’s test results revealed, my attention was fixed on the tears in both of their eyes. My stare soon became blurry with tears of my own. Not that I understood what breast cancer was, but the fact that my parents reaction told me it was a serious matter. It scared us all.
During her stay in the hospital after her radical mastectomy, I was not permitted to visit her long because of my young age. At home, I searched for the best looking pears lying under mom’s favorite pear tree to send her as a gift. Mom and I spent many hours together outside when I was a young boy. Picking the harvest from the fruit trees in our yard provided several life lessons taught by mom and I enjoyed the time with her. The pears I sent to her in the hospital were filled with more than sweet juices and tender fruit flesh, but love and hope from home where her sons and one year-old daughter craved her return.
After the shock of the discovery and removal of mom’s cancer had subsided to a smaller degree, our focus switched to getting her better. Dad stretched an extra clothesline which provided some therapy for mom as she was forced to reach higher to fasten the laundry. The care she received at the hospital was wonderful and the surgery went as planned. Mastectomies in the early 70s took much more than they do today, but the mental trauma is the same. What was she to do if the cancer had spread? How would dad get along raising three young kids and two older children if she didn’t survive? What if, what if, what if?
During the months after her surgery she gained strength in her arm and side. She also gained confidence the cancer was gone and gone forever. What haunted her was the thought of, what would the outcome have been if she ignored the lump? Then and today, many women who first discover the first signs of breast cancer, deny the possibility of what it could be. And in the most devastating cases, when they do make the call to their doctor, it’s too late.
The years following mom’s cancer experience, she was going full force with mothering and marital duties. We kids had even reached a point where we could even giggle when mom made little jokes about adjusting or looking for her “falsey” (her foam breast prosthesis) after bathing. Her strength she shown was a great lesson of dedication to her family and doing everything in her power to be present for us. As a hospital employee years later, she was an inspiration to women dealing with breast cancer.
A wonderful program that introduces breast cancer patients to the many benefits of fly fishing is growing across the nation and the world. According to the program’s website, “Casting for Recovery” is a national non-profit support and educational program for women who have or have had breast cancer. The program provides an opportunity for women whose lives have been deeply affected by the disease to gather in a beautiful, natural setting and learn fly-fishing, “a sport for life.” Just as importantly, the program offers an opportunity to meet new friends and have fun. The weekend retreats incorporate counseling, educational services and the sport of fly-fishing to promote mental and physical healing. Founded in 1996, Casting for Recovery has been offering free retreats across the country. The program relies on local volunteers and organizations to support our community based retreats.
The retreats provide an avenue for social support and group interactions, reducing the feeling of isolation many survivors might have. The dynamics of fly fishing provide a healing connection to the natural world, relieving everyday stressors and promoting a sense of calm. Fly fishing techniques provide a gentle exercise for joint and soft tissue mobility. The retreats offer a forum for women with similar experiences to meet, learn a new skill and gain a respite from their everyday concerns.
For more information: Call 1-888-553-3500, or visit them on the web at www.castingforrecovery.org