More Than A River: Casting For Recovery

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Published February 27, 2019 | | Author: Amber Leach 

Debutantes and the homeless. Criminals and social workers. Teachers and students. Governors, attorneys and stay-at-home-moms. Elite athletes and couch potatoes. Rich or poor. The moral, the immoral and the in-between. Nothing levels the ground beneath our feet like the diagnosis of a disease that refuses to discriminate. 

Age, gender, skin color, sexual orientation, religion, physical abilities, political proclivities, educational background and socioeconomic status. With zero regard for human life, cancer can, without warning, topple anyone in its path. There is often no rhyme or reason and there’s certainly nothing that is off limits. It’s a disease that ravages families, deconstructs plans and casts clouds over the future. 

But it can’t spoil the milk of human-kindness and it can’t hijack hope. 

Not when you have organizations with hope as a cornerstone.

Casting for Recovery (CfR) was founded in Manchester, Vermont in 1996 on the premise that the natural world is a healing force. The collective product of a breast cancer reconstructive surgeon and a professional fly fisher, this one-of-a-kind organization focuses on a woman’s quality of life after she has received a diagnosis of breast cancer. With fly fishing as a vehicle, the folks at CfR strive to help survivors that are journeying through the healing process. While most organizations have a strong focus on cancer research, the founders of Casting for Recovery recognized the needs of patients beyond the ‘science.’ Their healing program model has been touted as nothing short of innovative and it has received extensive national recognition while amassing endorsements from psychosocial and medical experts alike. 

But why fly fishing? 

The casting motions of fly-fishing mimic the motions that are prescribed to breast cancer patients after radiation or surgery. They encourage and promote the natural stretching of soft tissue. Couple the repetitive rhythm of the ‘cast’ with the immeasurable healing components found in nature and you have a beautiful prescription for better health, physically, mentally, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually. 

Although they’re headquartered in Bozeman, Montana now, Casting for Recovery has a presence nationwide. They host 55 different retreats, with 1600 volunteers serving approximately 750 women each year. The goal of these 2.5-day healing weekends is to offer a respite for women recovering from breast cancer while helping to facilitate camaraderie and connectivity in a natural setting. Participants get the chance to focus on something other than their diagnosis, doctor appointments and fear of the future for an entire weekend and they come away equipped with powerful tools that enable them to face daily challenges moving forward. They are given access to resources, trained psychosocial facilitators, healthcare professionals with oncology experience….and fly-fishing instructors. There is no other program available that offers the synergy and combination of such expertise in the name of recovery. 

Retreats are appropriate for women in all stages of treatment and recovery. They are open to women of all ages and they are 100% free to every participant. And each retreat closes out with a half-day of guided fly fishing!

Here’s what previous attendees have had to say about the program designed by Casting for Recovery: 

  • 91% felt better able to cope with their disease and were more aware and accepting of themselves. 
  • 100% would recommend the program to/for others. 
  • 98% felt connected with other participants. 
  • 91% learned something new about living with breast cancer. 

In hopes to do justice to this wonderful organization, I recently interviewed Faye Nelson, C.E.O. of Casting for Recovery. Faye is a fourth generation Montanan with over 25 years of experience in the non-profit sector and her passion for what she does is contagious. Here are just a few of the things we talked about.

Q: Why Casting for Recovery? What brought you here? 

A: Before CfR, I was at ‘Warriors and Quiet Waters’ for 6 years where we served post-9/11 combat veterans and their families through fly fishing. That experience reinforced for me that fly fishing is something that can teach ‘being in the moment.’ Participants don’t have to think about any medical appointments, test results or any of the other things that cancer patients must face on a daily basis. 

While I have never been personally affected by breast cancer, I recognize the healing powers of nature and what that can do…from your mood to your mental health. Given the odds of breast cancer (1-in-8 women will be diagnosed in their lifetime), I am also very excited to part of an organization that serves women.

Q:  What would you say is the most challenging part of your job?

A: How to serve more women. Right now, we can place about 1 out of every 4 women that apply to our program. For those that participate, we see tremendous outcomes and impacts…100% of them would recommend our program to a friend. They become more comfortable with themselves and more open to the idea of support groups. We want to give those same kinds of outcomes to as many women as possible. Not only is it a constraint to get the financial resources to do that, but it’s also about finding volunteers for our retreats and staff to help process and manage all the applications. One of the most challenging things of all is figuring out how we will continually grow, making the process feel more organic and magical and less like a corporate machine. 

Q: What do you think is the greatest take-a-way for participants? 

A: Being around a group of people with similar and shared experiences who understand. That’s so valuable because these participants might be seeing doctors on a regular basis but they’re not seeing the psychosocial aspect of things. The camaraderie and the intimacy that they find over the course of a weekend can provide a lot of hope.

Q: If you could share one thing with readers that they couldn’t find on your website, what would it be? 

A: Because breast cancer is one of the cancers that has a relatively high survival rate, it’s often dismissed because it’s ‘survivable.’ That misconception leads us down a dangerous path as a society because it negates what each woman goes through when she gets a diagnosis. The survival rates are high, particularly for Caucasian women, but we can’t let those facts dismiss a woman’s fear of recurrence or her fear of passing it on to her children. We can’t let all those kinds of things get washed away. Introducing nature to women who are going through depression and stress is both powerful and needed. 

Any illness that makes us all acutely aware of our own mortality can be a heavy subject. But the light coming from CfR should serve to give us each a restored faith in humanity and reinforce what many folks have long since suspected…that there is healing in nature. There is recovery in a river. And there is hope at the end of the (fly) line. 

To learn more about what Faye and her team are doing, check out Casting for Recovery at

Meanwhile, keep spreading the word that ‘to fish is to hope,’ just like they say in Bozeman.  

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