Breast cancer survivors find solace in fly fishing

The goal of the initiative is to connect breast cancer survivors with each other while teaching them the new skill of fly fishing.

KINGSTON, Tenn. – Over the weekend in Kingston, breast cancer survivors spent time preparing for their recovery. During the healing retreat, they made friends and fished.

Casting for Recovery is a national non-profit organization, with branches in different parts of the state, including East Tennessee. This year is the first full retreat weekend since before the pandemic.

The weekend retreat reminded survivors that beauty can come from the most unexpected places.

Life is very much like water. There are stable and fragile periods. Gretchen Thomas is more than willing to wade into it.

“You don’t realize how much you need it until you’re here,” Thomas said.

She and 13 other retired women in Kingston are all breast cancer survivors.

“When you hear the word cancer, you melt, you know, and you break, but it’s how you take it and live your life after it that matters most,” Thomas said.

That’s why they fly fish.

“It ripples outward, just like casting your line,” said East Tennessee program coordinator Lindsay Long.

Casting for Recovery brings together women who share this common thread, helping them heal through nature.

Fly fishing has therapeutic effects for cancer patients. It provides soft tissue stretching and allows balance work while wading through the water.

“We see a change in them even within a day,” said Denise Remkus, coordinator of the training program.

“They don’t have to worry about anything, their jobs, their treatments, they just come to relax and enjoy the camaraderie,” Long said.

They all start out as strangers to the sport.

“I don’t know if I would still call myself a fly fisherman, but I’m trying,” said breast cancer fighter Pamela Tupman.

Many were able to try their hand on land, wading in Watts Bar Lake and swinging in a boat.

The guides are even touched by the survivors on the other end of the line.

“That fishing, when you do that, your mind is on a brain vacation and you can’t think about chemo and drugs and anything like that,” fishing guide Wanda Taylor said.

The survivors kept throwing whether there was a catch or not.

“It’s about the experience, the relaxation, and just getting away from it all,” Thomas said.

If you would like to apply or donate to Casting for Recovery, you can do so at castingforrecovery.org.