I’m officially on vacation, something I’ve been dreaming of for so long. It’s September 21, 2002. I have been selected to attend a two-day fly fishing retreat sponsored by a non-profit organization, Casting for Recovery. This organization sponsors trips for women who have had breast cancer, and my oncologist, Dr. Nikita Shah, M.D., signed the paperwork indicating I could attend, if selected. And, I was! (The letter indicating I was chosen for the fall 2002 program came while I was in the hospital in May undergoing lung surgery. I wasn’t sure if I would be able to go, but my doctor had full confidence I would be okay to participate.) Go to:
I left Central Florida along with my Mom and two brothers, Gary and Michael. We drove off in a rented, brand-new 2003 Chevy Tahoe. A great adventure awaited me at my destination - Sky Top Lodge in the Pocono Mountains of PA. I was thrilled by the chance to get away and the possibility of meeting new people, other breast cancer survivors, also interested me. Go to:
Despite the continuous pain I dealt with along with the never-ending fatigue, this trip was a dream come true. I needed change in my life and getting away from my everyday routine was, “just what the doctor ordered.” My life was too predictable at this point -- I needed a diversion.
While I would be attending the two-day seminar, my family would lodge nearby and enjoy the local sites. Even though my Mom had lived all her life in Philadelphia, she had never traveled to the Pocono Mountain region of the state. So, she was also ready to enjoy a new adventure. At this time, my Mom was having slight memory problems. She was diagnosed with mild dementia. This occasionally caused some problems, with her forgetting that she had already mentioned something and repeating stuff over again, or she would get easily agitated and her temper would explode. Fortunately, these moments were manageable. She had started medication and now, on this trip, she was very excited and like me, looking forward to getting away. While in the area, we would also visit family.
At Sky Top Lodge, the accommodations were first-class. I was placed in a room with another Florida breast cancer survivor. She had flown into PA from her Brevard County, FL home. Our room had two twin beds and the view from the windows provided us a sneak peak at the beautifully, landscaped gardens that surrounded the building. Meals were served in a large dining hall, and we had our pick from the specialty menu. Our dinners on both nights were gourmet, with an emphasis on freshness, presentation and incredible delights for our taste buds. Each course was amazing, and we had to make sure we saved enough room for dessert. Tough choices -- which dessert to choose!
At night, after a long day of fly-fishing classes and casting opportunities in the nearby lake, we spent hours talking. Each survivor was encouraged to share her story or experience with cancer. Besides plenty of tears there was an equal amount of laughter within the group. Bonding was quick.
The fly-fishing component of our excursion was also first-rate with each member of the group being outfitted with pro equipment. Mornings were spent in classes learning the elements of fly-fishing (I had never gone fishing in my entire life, so this was a brand new experience for me.) Late morning and early afternoon was spent at the lake where we attempted to cast off or show off what we had learned in class. One day, due to high winds, we practiced our casting inside a skating rink -- obviously not in use during this time of the year.
There was one major downfall for me. Due to my ongoing medical problems (breathing challenges and high pain levels), I was now using a rolling walker to get me from place to place. I could sit down (using the HUGO) Go to: if I got tired and needed a break. However, it also meant I could not walk all the way from our lodging accommodations to the lakefront classroom. I had to wait for the complimentary van that transported me and my HUGO to the program’s location. Also, I was too exhausted to walk around the lake -- something I envisioned doing but could only watch others enjoy. Plus, due to my weakened condition, I really could not keep up with the fly-fishing program. I was simply too tired, and spent most of the afternoons watching the others while chatting with an instructor who sat by my side. I felt more like a spectator than an actual participant.
However, on our final morning, I did get to try my fly-fishing skills. It was arranged for me to have an individual instructor. That way, I would not be holding anyone else back from the experience. We set out to our location, along the scenic waterway, and sat down to enjoy the peace and quiet surrounding us. I was given assistance with my casting, although I did do the actual work myself. And, I sat patiently waiting for a fish to take a bite. It was a catch and release program, but all of us wanted that special photo that would be taken if we caught a fish that morning. I waited. And, I waited. There was a starring contest between me and this little fish for quite some time. The fish looked at the hook and bait, but never took a nibble. I tried talking to the fish -- suggesting it take the bait -- I would take my photo - and then, it could return to its family and friends. Still, no luck. I never did catch a fish. But, I did graduate later that morning. We all received certificates of completion, had a lovely boxed lunch by the lake, and then, our excursion was over.
It was time to return to reality. My time fly-fishing was over, but I did take wonderful memories with me. I continue to support the efforts of CFR, and I did meet some terrific women over the two-day program. I often think of them -- hoping they are all doing well in their cancer journeys. I also know that CFR has become a much bigger program, and now, there is even a retreat in Florida.