CHANEYSVILLE, Pennsylvania — Anne Toland has just returned to the River Mountain station nestled between the ridges of the Warrior and Tussey mountains, here in the Black Valley. She wears teal and gray outdoor gear and smiles broadly. Toland has just fished for trout for the first time since childhood and she is thrilled with the experience.
“Fishing was fun. The whole outdoor experience here has been so welcoming, as has the camaraderie that has formed. You see, all of the women here have been diagnosed with cancer, and the goal of this program is to connect us not only with other women who are going through similar experiences, but also with the power of nature in the recovery,” said Toland, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017.
“We found out I had a tumor against my chest wall, and they identified it from a mammogram. I had absolutely no symptoms. I had no idea. I felt good. I felt no different from normal. So this routine mammogram saved my life,” she said.
Standing in a pasture a few hours from the nearest town in the state, Toland is one of 14 women chosen by a lottery-like program to participate in Casting for Recovery, a cancer rehab that looks like nothing of what you’ve never seen before, centered on the spiritual and physical benefits that fly fishing can have on cancer survivors.
“There is also an emotional benefit. It’s the brotherhood of the creek,” Toland said, adding that what she loved most apart from the bonds that had formed and her physicality was that the recovery retreat had brought them out of the barren rooms, fluorescent and windowless to show them empowerment through nature.
Dressed in a bright pink lightweight racing jacket and purple shorts, with her long blonde hair pulled back in a ponytail, Marci Sturgeon said the women came together to learn the art of fly fishing. “Fly fishing moves help women get stronger and heal after mastectomy or lumpectomy,” said Sturgeon, who has been involved with the Casting for Recovery wellness team for more than 10 years. years as a psychosocial facilitator.
“I’m a mental health therapist,” she said. Sturgeon is also definitely the cheerleader of the camp, and every retired woman easily responds to her as she leads different workshops focused on recovering physical and mental health.
“Retirement is much more than physical. We had workshops focusing on horticulture, herbal medicine. We drummed with big exercise balls, grounding strategies they can use at home,” she said.
Sturgeon, who says she seeks to bring holistic wellness from a mind-body experience, works with Diane Buchbarke, a medical oncologist, who says she brings her expertise to help answer the tough questions.
Buchbarke has been doing this as a volunteer for four years. “I talk about breast cancer and I’m just here for support. Women ask questions all weekend about breast cancer,” she said.
More than a dozen aquatic assistants, all volunteers, teach the women the basics of fly fishing; from them they quickly learn while fishing at Town Creek how spiritual fly fishing can be for the soul.
All seemed to derive as much pleasure and admiration from the experience as the women.
The retreat was also visually stunning: the new resort is an extraordinary facility that sits on unceded traditional Massawomeck territory; it offers stunning views of the Appalachians (mainly because it’s in the center of them) and offers a choice of brand new cabins with wide windows, as well as yurts and glamping tents.
Toland best captured what all of the women felt at the end of the weekend, and it was the camaraderie that developed between the women: “It’s a brotherhood. It’s the brotherhood of the fly rod.