Chairs scraping the linoleum, gentle murmurs and a hushed undertone of intermittent conversation fill the room. Fourteen fly fishermen and their buddies sit down for the evening meal on the first day. Just two hours ago they were complete strangers, but they have now begun to form a strong positive bond based upon their mutual arch-enemy: cancer. These gentlemen are all participants in a unique program offered to male cancer patients, free of charge, called Reel Recovery.
The initial Reel Recovery began when a group of fly fishing enthusiasts were moved by their friend Stewart Brown’s battle with brain cancer and motivated by the favorable calming influence fly fishing had upon him during his struggle. It has since become a national non-profit organization that plans and carries out fly fishing retreats for men recovering from any kind of cancer. Retreats are currently conducted in 17 states and even one this year in New Zealand.
After dinner they again convene for what retreat organizers call “courageous conversations.” These conversations are led by a clinical social worker who encourages sometimes difficult conversation with open ended questions. Facilitator, Ted Larrison, who attends and conducts sessions at seven retreats a year, said, “ Most participants really like that they have someone that they can talk to.” He explained that many men don’t have strong family support or find it difficult to express their feelings or fears to family members, even wives. Some just don’t have anyone close to speak with. Their concerns range from dealing with pain, the recurrence and battling their disease, to handling medical costs and finances for their loved ones and facing death.
The second day is devoted mostly to fly fishing. Each participant is given a “buddy” to fish with. Many buddies are former participants and recovering cancer patients themselves. No fly fishing experience is necessary. All the equipment is provided, and each buddy works side by side with the participant to help, guide and instruct. There is no pressure, just enjoyment. Every effort is made to provide opportunities for a quality fishing experience for all, even if a participant has some health issues.
The third day begins with breakfast, includes a morning of fishing, lunch and a closing discussion. The mood is no longer hushed and subdued but excited, enthusiastic and jovial. Each man already has a fishing story to tell. They have formed a common bond besides cancer. Reg Tiball is the Reel Recovery Michigan coordinator. He stated, “ I like it because I am doing something for people who are alive. It is not research, real people directly benefit.”
Future communication is encouraged through e-mail exchange and additional cancer fighting resources are provided. For more information on Reel Recovery, visit their website at reelrecovery.org. You can research and register for a retreat, donate or just share some moments with these courageous men. Be Well! Fish On!
By Leslie Scaletta