When most people think of fly fishing they likely would not associate the sport with breast cancer recovery.
Casting For Recovery, a national nonprofit support and educational program founded in 1996, combines fly fishing, counseling and medical information in a two-and-a-half-day retreat that brings women who have or have had breast cancer together. The program hosts 47 retreats in 33 states.
Dr. Douglas Bobb, an Ahwatukee Foothills hand surgeon who has been practicing in the community for 27 years, is an avid fly fisherman and volunteers for the yearly retreats in Pinetop, Ariz. He has been fly fishing for 15 years.
“It’s a great program, it brings the community together,” Bobb said. “The women develop a healthier mindset towards cancer and most really enjoy the program.”
As a hand surgeon Bobb has treated many women who have breast cancer and is familiar with the issues that many women face after surgery.
So how can fly fishing be beneficial for women with breast cancer?
According to Dr. Bobb, fly fishing helps improve shoulder motion. The act of fly-casting helps promote soft tissue stretching, something similar to the exercises that most surgeons prescribe after surgery or radiation. Fly fishing helps exercise damaged soft muscle tissue.
This year Arizona is hosting two weekend retreats, one in May and one in October. The deadline to apply for the May retreat is March 5 and the deadline to apply for the October retreat is Aug. 5. Fourteen women are selected through a special lottery process, along with 20 alternates for each retreat. Women are encouraged to reapply if they are not selected for the program on their first try.
Casting for Recovery is completely funded through volunteer work and donations. The women on the retreat are not required to pay. It costs $1,000 to fund each woman and roughly $23,000 for each retreat.
Kitty Wiemelt, one of the program co-coordinators for the Arizona retreat, has been fly fishing for 15 years and founded the program 11 years ago. Wiemelt met Bobb last year at the International Sports Expo.
“I love fly fishing,” she said. “It’s cool to teach the women what I know,”
Participants in the program learn the basics of fly casting, catch-and-release fly fishing, entomology and knot tying skills.
In addition to learning how to fly fish and experience its therapeutic benefits, women in the program also participate in psychosocial events and medical education that focuses on helping them open up and explore their own recovery process.
“At the end of the program the women leave with 13 other best friends,” Wiemelt said.
Bobb also believes that the program is a great way for the women to bond, network and develop relationships.
“It’s a big reward to see the women bonding and healing together,” he said.
As of now, about 30 women have applied for the March retreat. Wiemelt believes this number will double by the time March rolls around.
For more information on Casting for Recovery and how to volunteer, visit www.castingforrecovery.org or contact Wiemelt at (480) 329-6996.
Arselia Gales is interning this semester for the Ahwatukee Foothills News. She is a sophomore at Arizona State University.