On Sunday I drove from Surrey through the Hampshire countryside and down into the beautiful Test valley to attend my first Casting for Recovery retreat for women with breast cancer. The stifling heat and thunderstorms of the previous days were forgotten, replaced by glorious sunshine and a gentle breeze. I drew up at my destination, a fishing lodge beside a stream full of minnows keeping close to the bank. As I stepped out of the car, I caught sight of pairs of flyfishers dotted around the lake, one casting their line and the other giving advice and encouragement, pointing to the likely hiding place of fish.
I learned from Sue Shaw, who leads the Casting for Recovery programme in the UK, that Friday and Saturday had been spent tying flies, discovering all about the ecosystem of our rivers and lakes and getting to know the other women on the retreat. There had been time for yoga, a stroll through the grounds of the estate and coming together over shared meals and experiences. Now was the moment of truth; would anyone catch a fish? None need have worried as fish after fish, including a magnificent blue trout, was landed and bagged to be taken home, cooked and enjoyed; not before a fascinating look at the aquatic insects, crustaceans and worms the fish had been feeding on.
What a fantastic day we all had at the beautiful Kimbridge on the Test Estate. All 12 ladies caught fish and some of the trout were taken home for supper
We wandered over for lunch at one of the houses on the estate so generously lent to us for the weekend by our host and sat down together, women, coaches, volunteers and medical staff, to a delicious lunch. Happy chatter filled the room with the most important topic being who had won the £12 sweepstake for the heaviest fish landed. At 4 ¼ Lb there were cheers and applause for the proud fly fisher. As we talked over lunch I heard about their personal stories, each unique but with breast cancer in common. They had all come together, as one of the women described it, to this wonderful house party where I don’t have to explain myself, I can get away from it all and just concentrate on the cast, the fish and the peaceful surroundings. Ages ranged from women in their thirties to women in their seventies, from all backgrounds and from across the country. Some had come under their own steam and others had been driven down by family so they could conserve their energy for the fish.
Without exception, every woman expressed deep gratitude and thanks to the Casting for Recovery team for the opportunity to learn how to flyfish and share time with others. For some it was the beginning of a new passion and one they could share with family and friends. I came away inspired by their enthusiasm and zest for life, determined to do my bit to ensure that Casting for Recovery is able to hold many more retreats and offer women with breast cancer the chance to spend a weekend where their only focus is on the fish and new friends.