My First Retreat – CEO, Faye Nelson

 In Blog

This week we are excited to share with you insights from CEO, Faye Nelson’s first retreat! She provides a great overview of the experience and what it means to connect with participants and the healing power of nature. Stay tuned for more from Faye as she attends future retreats…


What a thrill to finally attend a Casting for Recovery retreat! After accepting the incredible opportunity to serve women with breast cancer as the CEO of CfR in January 2020, and then cancelling all 55 retreats for the year as one of my first tasks, it was beyond time for me to experience the magic first-hand.

CfR retreats typically begin in March but this year we decided to wait until June to give Covid-19 a little more time to calm down. So, on the second weekend in June, I headed out on a road trip from Bozeman, Montana to Lake Coeur d’Alene in Idaho for the Eastern Washington/Northern Idaho retreat.

I arrived on Thursday evening, just in time for the team meeting prior to the participants’ arrival, and just in time for dinner on the deck overlooking the lake. The E. Washington/N. Idaho program holds their retreat at N-Sid-Sen, an amazing location amongst a pine forest. “N-Sid-Sen” means Point of Inspiration in the Coeur d’Alene tribe’s ancient language, an apt name if I do say so myself.

At the team meeting, each of the volunteers introduced themselves and their role on the team – retreat leader, participant coordinator, hospitality, fly fishing instructors, river helper coordinator, and wellness team (aka Med/Psych), an oncology nurse and a counselor. This team was a well-oiled machine as most of them were the founding core members of the group 10 years ago! In recent years, they have added three CfR alumnae to the team which is a testament to how impactful the CfR retreat was for those alumnae. 

We then completed some last-minute tasks such as setting up the resource table with medical information ranging from lymphedema, a condition most commonly caused by lymph node removal or damage due to cancer treatment, to opportunities with Fly Fishing International.

As I’ve heard is typical, when the participants arrived on Friday at noon, we saw some faces of excitement and some of uncertainty. Not only did these brave women decide to come to a multi-day retreat in the middle of woods without knowing anyone, it may have been the first social gathering since early 2020 for some of them.

The volunteers running the show put the participants at ease right off the bat. After getting settled in their rooms and a light lunch, we did group introductions. I couldn’t believe how willing each of the participants were to share facets of their cancer journey and life in general with the whole group within minutes of knowing one another. It set the tone for the next few days of openness, understanding, no judgment and learning from each other. 

Almost all of the participants had undergone some kind of surgery for their cancer treatment. Some had single mastectomies, some had double. Some chose reconstruction, some did not. Some wore prosthetics, some did not. Some were 10 years out from diagnosis. Some were two weeks away from their last treatment. Some were younger than 50, some were older than 80. Most wanted to attend to be around other women with breast cancer, some were more curious about fly fishing.

Nearly all of the participants were new to fly fishing. Within a couple hours of arrival, they were casting a fly rod after practicing the motion with a wet paintbrush and foam pool noodle. The four fly fishing instructors were excellent. The participants didn’t want to quit casting practice but we wanted to give them some free time to rest before dinner. Most of them chose not to rest but to chat on the deck overlooking the lake with each other. They immediately bonded over their shared experiences. After dinner, the participants were invited to learn how to tie a fly. I thought only a few of the women would be curious about fly tying but all of them were game and eager to learn. Each participant had their own vice and left with one of their own flies. I always thought fly tying was intimidating but there is something about women teaching women that inspires and empowers. 

On Saturday, the group learned about gear, made sure the waders and boots fit everyone correctly and learned about safety and buying affordable gear for those who choose to pursue the sport. We also had an entomology and knot tying lesson which established an excellent foundation for understanding fly fishing and another casting lesson that afternoon. 

After lunch, only the participants and the wellness team participated in a closed door session focused on living with breast cancer and the effects of treatment. I was honored to be able to witness this unique aspect of CfR in action. The medical facilitator provided a lot of information about physical mobility, pharmaceuticals, libido, etc. from which just about every participant learned something she hadn’t known before. Hearing from other survivors and thrivers about their experiences with something provides a lot more context than only hearing about it from a medical professional. That night, after a bit of post-dinner dancing (yes, the dining hall had a disco ball), the group met again for a closed-door session led by the psychosocial facilitator to discuss depression, isolation, “the new normal” after diagnosis and treatment, mindfulness, and growth. This further cemented the participants’ new network of support with one another.

Finally, on Sunday morning, after a short yoga session on the deck, we were ready to get these ladies out on the water after all they had learned. For the first time of the weekend, males were invited to join our group as river helpers, most of them being fly fishing guides. These guys were so friendly, supportive and excited to be there! Each participant was paired with their own river helper for three hours fishing for lake trout and bass on the lake. It was hot so everyone was relieved to feel the cool water around them while wading into the lake. There were some beautiful casts, a few takes and a few catches, and LOTS of smiles and new friendships. 

After lunch, during goodbyes, one participant told me she felt like she had a new outdoor hobby to pursue since she couldn’t hike as far as she used to, one told me she felt like she could now join her husband when he goes fly fishing, and another asked me if she could come work for CfR! I recently heard that the group is already planning to get together for a reunion next summer. I can’t wait to head to other retreats this summer to meet more of these fun, brave, people! Lucky me!

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