From the Riffle – Trish Shands

 In Blog

This week we are excited to post a From the Riffle submission. Each month, Casting for Recovery will feature a guest blogger that will share information on who they are, their “home waters” where they fish, how they are connected to CfR and where they would like to see the organization in the next 25 years. We recently connected with Trish Shands, a past participant, longtime supporter and currently our Board Chair. It was fun to learn more about Trish as discusses her “home waters”, and explains her longtime connection and appreciation of CfR.

I grew up on the Texas Gulf Coast learning to fish as a toddler.  Some of my fondest memories are sitting on the wooden pier beside my grandmother, legs dangling over the side, cane pole in hand while listening to her gentle instructions to “keep my eye on the bobber!”  My passion for fishing followed me well into adulthood, but it wasn’t until I attended a Casting for Recovery retreat in 2004 as a breast cancer survivor that I discovered the magic and allure of fly-fishing.

I joined the Board of Trustees of Casting for Recovery in 2014.  In January 2021 I was appointed Chair of the Board and will serve in that capacity for the next 2 years.  I definitely plan to continue volunteering and staying involved with CfR when my tenure on the Board is completed.

Twenty-one years ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  Devastated by the diagnosis but fiercely determined get my life “back on track” as quickly as possible, I immediately scheduled my surgery. Two weeks post-mastectomy, and against strict doctor’s orders, I was back to work as an orthopedic surgeon, completely immersed in my private practice, avoiding any thought or discussion of my cancer diagnosis.  And I was relieved that my life had seemingly picked back up right where it had left off before the diagnosis.

Fast forward to a couple of years later.  I’m flipping through a copy of Outside magazine and notice a tiny add in the back pages mentioning something about women with breast cancer, being in the outdoors, all expenses paid weekend retreats.  But what really caught my eye and had been a high priority bucket list item for me was the part about learning how to fly-fish.  But I have to confess when mailing in my application (snail mail back then!) that I felt a slight twinge of guilt knowing my motivation for attending that retreat was to learn how to fly fish.  I honestly did not want to talk about breast cancer nor share my story, and I definitely did not want to sit in any kind of kumbaya sort of circle.  My sole mission was to learn how to fly fish! 

With that goal in mind, I showed up on a Friday afternoon at a beautiful lodge in Mount Rainier, Washington.  I quickly met my roommate, got checked in and unpacked … and then immediately asked, “When do we get to fly fish!?!”

Spoiler alert – that weekend didn’t turn out anywhere near how I had planned.  Yes, I did learn how to fly fish and fell in love with the sport.  But what I actually experienced throughout that weekend, while doing my absolute best to stay on the perimeter with minimal interaction, was way beyond fly-fishing.  I found myself surrounded by an amazing group of women from so many different walks of life.  Each one traveling on their unique path, braving their own challenging breast cancer journey and, unlike myself, courageously showing up that weekend to share their painful but heroic stories.

And without realizing it … I started to slow down … and I began to listen … and I listened some more.  And in hearing their individual, heart-felt stories, I eventually heard and found my own personal story.  And for the first time since my diagnosis, I was finally able to open up and share, never imagining how amazingly healing and therapeutic that might be.  A breast cancer diagnosis can leave you feeling so scared and completely alone. During that weekend I learned that I was no longer alone in my breast cancer journey and that there was this entire network of incredible women out there waiting patiently to take my hand and accompany me on my own journey.

As an orthopedic surgeon, my career was devoted to saving lives and providing care to my patients.  So, for me, it was incredibly difficult to admit that now I might be the one who actually needed help and support, and that I couldn’t just go on taking care of everybody else all of the time without first taking care of me.  Looking back, I think acknowledging that fact was as scary and life changing as the cancer diagnosis itself.  And that retreat weekend truly guided me in being able to understand and embrace that difficult life lesson.

I think I can genuinely share first-hand, as a breast cancer thriver, a past participant, an active volunteer and a member of CfR’s Board of trustees, that these retreats are downright powerful!  They provide this uniquely amazing opportunity for women with breast cancer, in all stages and all ages of life, to briefly step out of their comfort zones and come together in an inviting, safe haven in the outdoors, where they can experience and absorb the healing and restorative powers of nature.  Each one of them leaving that retreat weekend and coming out on the other side with the gift of hope and empowerment for their futures.  And that is truly a magical thing. 

I would like to see Casting for Recovery grow significantly over the next 25 years with the goal of being able to greatly increase the number of women served, while still preserving our core values and commitment.  I believe it will be important to explore innovative and creative strategies for growth that will not only enhance and complement our current retreat model, but will also allow for expansion of the services, support and meaningful experiences we provide.

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