South Burlington resident Sheila Reid shows a CFR participant how to assemble her rod and reel.

Casting for Recovery

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Thursday November 07, 2013

For many people who have never fly fished, their image is of Brad Pitt in the movie “A River Runs Through It”, standing on a river rock in a serene setting, casting to a rising trout - pure poetry in motion. But what does fly fishing have to do with breast cancer? 

Casting for Recovery (CFR) was the brainchild of a breast cancer reconstructive surgeon and a professional fly fisher who felt that the movement of fly casting would be therapeutic after surgery. In addition, CFR believes that the natural world is a healing force and that breast cancer survivors deserve a weekend in such a setting, free of stress and free of charge, during which to learn a new skill (fly fishing) in a supportive environment. Over 70% of the women who come to the retreats have never attended a support group and well over 90% have never fished.

South Burlington resident Sheila Reid is passionate about fly fishing, loves to teach others (especially women) about the sport and has seen first-hand the impact that CFR retreats have on the women who attend them. Retreats begin on Friday afternoons and friendships form almost immediately. During the two and one half days, the women learn the basics of fly casting, what fish eat (bugs!), equipment and knot tying. All fishing equipment is provided for the weekend. There is a support group as well as a medical talk. All women are encouraged to participate at their own level – to do as much or as little as they want. This weekend is about them. Casting for Recovery accepts women at any age and any stage of cancer (with their physician’s clearance). In any retreat there may be someone who has had treatment that morning and another person who is many years out. The youngest participants are in their 20s and the oldest in their 80s. Fly fishing is truly a sport for all ages and abilities.

The retreats are all staffed by trained female volunteers. On Sunday morning, everyone heads out to the water so the women can try to “put it all together”. For this activity there are “river helpers” - people who volunteer to act as one on one guides to the participants. Many of the river helpers are men whose lives have been touched by breast cancer (wife, sister, mother, friend).

Founded in 1996 in Manchester, Vermont, CFR has grown from one retreat to 443 retreats, and has served over 6000 women. In 2013 there will be 42 retreats in 34 states. Canada, New Zealand and the UK/Ireland now have Casting for Recovery programs.

Fourteen participants per retreat are accepted and the women are chosen at random. There are always more applicants than openings. Each program is self-funding (with support from National) and retreats are organized and staffed entirely by volunteers. Casting for Recovery is always looking for volunteers to help with fund raising, outreach etc., and these people need not be fly fishers; men are also welcome.

Although perhaps small in scope, this program can have a significant impact. As one participant from this year’s retreat wrote “Safe, open, affirming, laughter from the get-go. Going home gratefully physically exhausted and emotionally/spiritually renewed.”

For more information about the program, you can visit  The 2014 VT/NH retreat will be held in Stowe, Vermont from June 13-15. Applications are available online from CFR’s website. For information about the VT/NH program or how you can help, email