Fishing With a Pink Fly

When Charlene Douglas was just two weeks old, her mother died of metastasized breast cancer.  As a result, Charlene was elated when she heard a nonprofit that benefits  breast cancer survivors needed to set up a program in Northern Idaho/Eastern Washington.   Casting for Recovery is a national organization based in Vermont that provides 2 and a half day retreats for women undergoing treatment for or in the process of recovery from breast cancer.  In a natural setting, 14 breast cancer survivors, volunteers, a doctor, a nurse, and fly-fishing guides come together to teach breast cancer survivors how to fly-fish.  According to Charlene’s husband Joe, the action of casting a fly-fishing rod is similar to the exercises doctors often prescribe for patients after a mastectomy and/or radiation treatment.  Through the retreat, for which the participants pay nothing, they learn to fly-fish and often connect with other survivors, sometimes creating lasting friendships.  Casting for Recovery hopes to create a healing environment where the women can place emphasis on their strength and not the disease.  Charlene says, “It allows those people that are farther along in their treatment and recovery to help those who have just been diagnosed and to help those that are terminal.”  Charlene, who is the Program Coordinator of the North Idaho/Eastern Washington program, says Casting for Recovery is different from other breast cancer charities in that it focuses on the survivors, not on research for a cure.

Charlene and Joe, both members of Kelly Creek Flycasters, a fly-fishing club based out of Lewiston, have been fly fishing for ten and sixty years respectively.  Joe, as fundraising and media outreach coordinator, is also involved with the chapter.  They first heard about Casting for Recovery when a member of Kelly Creek Flycasters suggested his fly-fishing friend from the Boise chapter of Casting for Recovery come up to talk to a group of interested people.  “The folks from that program were invited up here by a person from our fishing club to tell us about it.  The presentation they gave sounded like something those of us in the room could be interested in,” says Joe.  Many people from the club and their spouses volunteer for the program, either assisting with raising funds or looking forward to helping the attendees learn to fly-fish.

The retreat will take place June 29-July1, 2012 outside Coeur D’Alene.  The women will spend time meeting with an oncologist, an oncology nurse, trying on waders, and learning about flies, knots, and casting.  The official fly for the North Idaho/Eastern Washington chapter is a pink and purple one created by Bob Larsell from Oregon.  Finally, on Sunday afternoon, the fishing guides will appear and take the women out casting on the nearby stream.

The chapter started making itself known last March when they rented a booth at the North Idaho Fly-Fishing expo sponsored by Kelly Creek Flycasters and began to spread awareness about the program. After that, the core team of volunteers have organized a variety of activities to raise money for next year’s retreat.  Among other events, they’ve run an informal luncheon catered by volunteers and a Halloween party at a local brewery.  They also assisted North Idaho Flycasters, a fly-fishing club from Coeur D’Alene that has been extremely active in supporting this local program, in putting on a formal dinner with live auction in Post Falls.  In addition, the chapter has also benefitted from “Tough Enough to Wear Pink Night” at the Lewiston Roundup, also participating in the parade.  For the holiday season, Charlene and Joe hope to have pink Christmas trees in a local business where the public can donate to put an ornament on the tree in honor of someone they know who has or has had breast cancer.  They have the challenge of raising the most money this year because, since it is the first retreat, they have to pay for organizers from the Vermont chapter to fly out and train them in how to run the specifics of the weekend.  It costs about 1,000 dollars per lady for the retreat.  “Something like this is definitely needed in our region,” says Charlene.

Charlene and Joe hope that by next year they will be hosting two retreats per year, one in Eastern Washington and one in Northern Idaho.  They think this will be especially beneficial because they want those who participate in fundraising to see that the program is helping friends, family, and neighbors in their own community.  In the next few years, Charlene wants to focus on getting the word out to fly fishing clubs and volunteers all over North Idaho and Eastern Washington (the program covers 13 counties in Northern Idaho and 5 counties in Eastern Washington.)  Right now, they have strong groups of volunteers in the Coeur D’Alene and Spokane areas.  Charlene points out that the volunteers know survivors who might benefit from the retreat in addition to knowing when and where local events, which can always function as fundraising opportunities, take place.

They would like to buy a boat, paint it pink, and have the attendees of the retreat sign it.  Joe mentions they borrowed a boat and painted it pink to put in the Lewiston Roundup Parade, but they have since given it back to the owner.  Joe thinks a pink boat would be something people would remember and associate with Casting for Recovery North Idaho/Eastern Washington.  He says, “It is something everyone would recognize.  I don’t think anyone else in the country has a pink boat in their programs.”

Joe says they hope for the possibility of hosting more than two retreats per year and/or possibly including men that suffer from breast cancer.  Right now, Casting for Recovery is only for women, and men (with the exception of doctors, nurses, and counselors) are not permitted at the retreat until Sunday afternoon.  At that point, guides, who are often male, arrive to help the women catch their first fish.


— Andrea Clark Mason

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Originally appeared in the January 2012 issue of The Ruralite

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