Casting for Recovery reels in cancer survivors

A petite woman with a fishing vest opened her arms expansively.

"I caught one this big!" said Julia Shepperd.

"They 'claimed' I got two bass and one trout but I think they were trying to take advantage of me because I'm a novice. I know it was a marlin."

Shepperd, a Jacks Valley resident who finished breast cancer treatment 21Ú2 months ago, was one of 14 women participating in the national Casting for Recovery fly-fishing retreat at Barney's Flyfishing Ranch in Minden Friday.

Casting for Recovery hosts no-cost retreats for women who are breast cancer survivors. This event was sponsored by Carson-Tahoe Cancer Resource Center.

Retreat leader Ilene Hirsh said the women spent the previous day at Sorensen's Resort in Hope Valley learning about bugs, how to cast and how to tie flies on a line.

"There was so much info and most of these ladies have never fished before," said Hirsh. "The problem now will be getting them to stop fishing and come in.

"The women are concentrating on learning a new thing. They're pampered during the retreat. They aren't just 'sick' or 'recuperating,'" she said.

Andrea Gaylord from Paradise, Calif., said the act of casting is a good way to exercise while having fun. Fly-fishing techniques provide a gentle exercise for joint and soft tissue mobility.

"It's exercising in an unconscious way - almost by accident," said Gaylord, 63, who has been in recovery for two years and was one of few women in the group with previous fishing experience.

"My father was a great flyfisherman," said Gaylord. "I learned to fish more than 40 years ago. Now my husband and I go fishing. It's very meditative - like doing yoga. And being out is the best part."

Susan Oakwood of Pleasant Valley, one of Casting for Recovery's "river guide" volunteers, has been fly-fishing for 16 years and is a breast cancer survivor of seven years.

The retired Carson High School teacher sports a tattoo of a damselfly on her thigh said she's "ridiculously addicted to fly-fishing."

Oakwood, 59, told her health class students when she found out she had breast cancer. They asked what she was going to do when she lost her hair to chemotherapy treatments.

"I told them I was going to wear the biggest earrings and lots of make-up and be the sexiest bald teacher you ever saw," Oakwood said.

"Life kicks you in the butt sometimes," she said. "You have to be strong to go through it and I did - I wasn't going to die.

"The way I want to die is to go down with a hole in my float tube with a 15-pound trout at the end of my new Winston rod," she said.

Casting for Recovery offers a retreat for women with similar experiences to gain respite from everyday concerns and to learn a new skill.

"We're grandmothers and mothers and daughters with same experiences and same goals in life," said Shepperd. "But until someone says you have the 'C' word, you can't understand. There's a common strand that connects us. Within 20 minutes, we were sisters.

"Bless their hearts to provide us with the opportunity (to attend the retreat). It feels good to get out and it's all about us. For the first time in a long time I felt pampered, significant and special.

"This is absolutely an experience I'll treasure for the rest of my life," she said.

Casting for Recovery provides weekend retreats at no cost to the participants including lodging, meals and professional instruction.

The event was staffed by volunteers from High Sierra Fly Casters. Sorensen's donated the cabins where the women spent the night and had preliminary fly-fishing lessons.

Barney's Flyfishing Ranch in Minden donated the use of their stocked lakes.

Any woman who is a breast cancer survivor with medical clearance from their physicians is eligible to attend a retreat.

For more information, contact Casting for Recovery at or Carson-Tahoe Cancer Resource Center at


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