Megan Plete Postol 08.31.23
Elaine Caroline Vanatta has been battling breast cancer for fifteen years. She lost her friend, Anne Wells, to the same disease. Wells was a Casting for Recovery alumni and a fly angler. Before she died, she encouraged Vanatta to keep applying for a spot in the program. Vanatta applied multiple times and, finally, this year she got in. Vanetta joined a group of other women who have been profoundly affected by breast cancer for a weekend that incorporated both an introduction to fly fishing and emotional support, which culminated with a half-day of fishing on the water.
“It’s not just about the fishing, it’s about the people,” Vanatta, of Honeyoye, New York, said. “It is about being with a group of women who understand the detour that we are on. Hearing their stories was so inspiring; hearing their stories about where they came from and how they dealt with cancer. It wasn’t the end, but rather the beginning of a new part of their lives. I promised Anne I would keep casting at life. I want to live the best of my life, not just the rest of my life.”
Casting for Recovery is a weekend-long annual retreat that introduces women struggling or recovering from breast cancer to the therapeutic sport of fly fishing. The Upstate New York chapter hosts its annual event at the Tailwater Lodge, which is located on the serene Salmon River, making it an ideal spot.
Zaida Maldonado was diagnosed with breast cancer about a year ago. She, too, was encouraged by a friend who had gone through the program to apply for a spot. At first, she was apprehensive but by the end of the weekend, she had made connections with other women.
“It has been really healing,” Maldonado said. “It has given me hope to see other women who are thriving, even with metastatic breast cancer. Fortunately, I am not metastatic but seeing how they have full lives and cancer isn’t everything. It has given me a lot of hope.”
Many of the volunteers that assist during the retreat are former attendees that have gone through the program and returned to offer their help to others. “The people at Casting for Recovery, the guides, and the staff, they are truly helping people,” Vanatta said. “They are amazing. They get it. They are difference makers.” Each retreat has at least one medical professional and one psychosocial counselor on site. Martha Neubert has been the psychosocial facilitator for the Upstate New York retreat since its inception almost a decade ago, and even after experiencing multiple retreats, she is still in awe.
“It is such a privilege to be with these women,” Neubert said. “It’s almost magical. These retreats produce an atmosphere that allows them to be with each other in a very comfortable and natural environment, centered around the excitement of learning to fly fish. It is a wonderful process to witness evolve throughout the weekend. The structure of these retreats on built around connection, but the women are connecting anyway through getting to know each other, sharing meals, and collectively learning about flyfishing.”
Casting for Recovery is a national 501c3 nonprofit organization with chapters in states all across the country. The women that attend come from all walks of life, but all have been through breast cancer. “This experience has been life changing,” Kelly Houseman, of Buffalo, said. “Fly fishing was something that I never would have thought to do, but this opportunity came up and I’m at the point in my life where you just have to say yes to everything.”
Like many of the other attendees, Houseman plans to continue fly fishing. “It was so relaxing,” Houseman said. “You could just forget about everything and listen to the water and get excited when a little fish bites your hook. It was great.” The retreats are offered at no cost to the women who attend. Fundraising, volunteers, and donations make it possible. Anyone interested in donating directly to the Upstate NY Casting for Recovery retreat program fund.