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Yvonne McKenna on the Casting for Recovery programme
Three years after my breast cancer diagnosis and treatment, I caught sight of an advert for a fly fishing programme for women who have or have had breast cancer. Wasn’t that what the Queen Mum used to do? This was an offer too good to miss.
Run by Casting for Recovery UK & Ireland (CFR), the programme is the first of its kind in the UK. It uses a unique formula of fly fishing, counselling, and education to promote mental and physical healing. Women have the opportunity to gather in a beautiful, natural setting and learn fly fishing while meeting new friends and having fun.
Fly fishing relieves everyday stress and promotes a sense of calm. It also offers a gentle form of exercise for joint and soft tissue mobility, and requires little strength so is perfectly safe and comfortable. Women are taught the fundamentals of fly casting, entomology, knot-tying and equipment basics – but most importantly, they spend time on the water practising ‘catch-and-release’ fishing.
I applied and was selected to go to the Forbes of Kingennie resort in Broughty Ferry in Angus, Scotland. I arrived at Forbes after a long train journey through some glorious countryside. I was met at the reception and shown to the wooden lodge where I would be staying with 11 other women who had been selected.
The lodge was beautiful with large light, airy lounges that looked out on to beautiful Scottish fishing lakes and rolling countryside. The other women were already there tucking into afternoon tea. We then met the team who would be looking after us.
We, the ‘patients’, were a mixed bag of ages, experiences and in various stages of recovery from breast cancer. One woman had recently finished her chemotherapy treatment and wanted to get back to some semblance of normality. Another had been treated several years ago and found that she could not adjust psychologically to life after cancer.
After being kitted out with over trousers and jackets, tack vests, hats, gloves and sun glasses, we were given fishing rods and a tool box. We were ready for our first fly fishing lesson. The fly fishing instructors cast their lines perfectly and patiently explained the process to us all. They then worked with us in small groups of three.
It’s amazing just how quickly two hours pass when you are concentrating on something new, and how quickly you can gel with complete strangers when you are occupied in a joint aim. Over dinner that evening it was as though we had all known each other for years. Personal stories were told, memories recalled; there was laughing and some crying.
The next morning we had an indoor lesson that involved identifying and naming the different flies that live in the trout lakes. Our tutors had been out to the lake with jam jars, and filled them up with lake water, vegetation and lake inhabitants. We learned that if you can identify what the fish are eating, you can then select the most appropriate fishing fly to use.
In between fishing there was the opportunity to attend sessions that were aimed at particular issues connected with breast cancer. Our breast cancer counsellors held an informal discussion about lymphoedema. Several of the women had lymphoedema and found the discussions extremely useful.
On our final day we were up, breakfasted and dressed to kill before going out to the lake to be introduced to our gillies. The ‘gillie’ is somebody whose job is to assist or guide people who go angling or deer-stalking in Scotland. My gillie, Tom, explained that his job was to help me catch a trout.
I didn’t hold much hope of this but to my surprise, my fishing skills had improved overnight. I chose to use my Super Damsel fly and I was able to cast the perfect line. I caught a trout. Tom whacked it on the head, wrapped it up and I stowed it away in my bag, ready for dinner that night. Most of us were lucky to catch a fish and those that did were immensely proud of ourselves.
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