Who knew that the best place to start when learning how to fly fish is with paint brushes and cups of water, swimming pool noodles, and rods and reels with no hooks or flies in sight? These are just a few of the learning techniques the Casting for Recovery Breast Cancer group experienced this weekend at the five star Flying B Ranch in Kamiah, Idaho.

I was asked to come on staff as a medical facilitator this year for the retreat this past weekend. I take care of breast cancer patients everyday in my practice, so I felt what Casting for Recovery was doing was a great idea. I soon discovered that the participants and I would learn more about fly fishing, friendship, and healing than I thought possible in just a few days.

Casting for Recovery is a national organization that was established as a support and educational program for breast cancer survivors. It is ranked among some of the top charitable organizations and it started as a simple idea: Give women a place to learn a therapeutic technique to speed their recovery by exercising the soft tissue damaged by radiation and or surgery. Combine this with counseling and education in a retreat-like setting for two and a half days away from the stress of work, home and community demands. Provide the fun of learning the new skill of fly fishing with the infusion of interactive group activities by clinical psychologists, and then add in pertinent medical discussions by the health care team, and then watch this program become a powerful personal boast to women who have had breast cancer.

The Eastern Washington and Northern Idaho chapter is run by an amazing group of volunteers. Not only do they have great leadership skills, but they have a way of making every person feel unique and special all while taking people out of their element to learn a new skill, like fly fishing.

There was lots of laughter heard while learning the skills of fly fishing were being taught. The paint brush technique taught you how to hold your rod from the 10 o’clock to the 12 o’clock position with a bent elbow and no wrist action, thumb up. The water on your brush helped you to remember to flick of the brush at the end of the motion that sets the line. Then they picked up the swimming noodles to pretend with them. They called it answering the phone. You held the noodle at the ten o’clock position with a bent elbow, and then with rapid acceleration, you lifted the noodle to the twelve o’clock position like you were answering a phone quickly to your ear. The noodle shook at the top end, simulating what happens with the rod and then the fly line. Then out came the real thing: rods and reels with line and a little piece of red yarn at the end. This helped a lot with seeing if you were casting in a straight time down the hill, and the incredible fly fisher instructors were coaching the participants all the way.

Then on Sunday, the river helpers showed up in their trucks in a grand processional with much fanfare, as these are the guides that will get paired with each lady. A great deal of thought goes into this, as each lady gets their own river helper for three to four hours of one-on-one instruction at the lake, and they want to make sure each lady has the right river guide for them. At the lake, I heard sequels of joy and laughter as fish were landed and new skills were put to the test, all while the ladies cheered for each other’s accomplishments and the staff beamed with pleasure.

There were 12 amazing ladies that learned the art of fly fishing together this past weekend, but more importantly, this group of talented, beautiful ladies got a chance to share their fears, hopes and dreams for the future in a safe and playful place. Each of them seemed to find peace, laughter and friendship in the hearts of each other along the way. I also think they realized they are not alone on this journey, now they have a whole group of new friends and staff members cheering them on as they make their way forward in their life after breast cancer.

To apply to go to a Casting for Recovery retreat as a participant, breast cancer survivors can apply online for next year’s retreat in the spring. To volunteer or donate, please visit and sight our local chapter to help take care of our community of ladies who are breast cancer survivors. We need your help to ensure everyone has a chance to be a participant and experience the joy of friendship with other breast cancer survivors.