Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine

two men fly-fishing in stream © Reelrecovery.org

Fishing buddies give guidance and support to help participants through difficult times.
© Reelrecovery.org

August 2012

A chance for a Reel Recovery

Faced with cancer? Go fishing.

Amanda Laurenzi

You've been diagnosed with cancer. Are you scared, lonely, full of unanswered questions, overwhelmed and unable to find a moment's peace? Chances are you feel all of those things at once, plus more. What can you do to get some relief? Who can you turn to?

Reel Recovery was created by men who understand the emotional toll cancer can take. The program is for men of all ages who are facing any type and stage of cancer. Cofounder Stan Golub realized a need for the program when he saw his friend, Stewart Brown, struggle with brain cancer.

Golub helped create the program in 2003, in time for Brown to see his healing process could bring comfort and life-changing experiences to other men.

Brown had been fly-fishing for three years after his diagnosis and fishing helped him get through his sorrow and fears. Inspired by Brown's passion, Golub helped create Reel Recovery to share the healing power fly-fishing brought Brown.

"It has been, by far, the most fulfilling job I can ever imagine doing," Golub said.

Since its start, Reel Recovery has held 112 retreats nationwide and has helped more than 1,200 men battling cancer. Wisconsin hosts its first retreat at the Stoney Creek Resort in Onalaska, Sept. 12-14. Anthony Larson, event coordinator for the Midwest, and Bob Bernard, Midwest coordinator, chose the location.

"Bob and I fished and checked out the area," Larson said. "We also obtained local support."

Larson says community support is critical to the program's success. The program is largely funded by private donations. Larson participates in local fundraising to keep the program running. For information on how to make donations, visit Reel Recovery.

Men with cancer are encouraged to attend the 2 -day retreat to meet other men with similar serious health concerns and also to find an outlet for their emotions.

"Most men will not go to support groups or therapy," says Debbie McKinney, program administrator for Reel Recovery. "But most of the time, these men are sharing stories and heartbreaking times."

Two men fishing in a stream © Reelrecovery.org
A fishing buddy helps his Reel Recovery partner at an event in Mackay, Idaho.
© Reelrecovery.org

The retreat involves a therapy session called "Courageous Conversations," that brings the men together to share their struggles and hardships brought on by their illnesses.

"The subjects are very heavy during these conversations, which make them so healing and so bonding," McKinney said. "Participants truly walk away changed."

When the men are not attending "Courageous Conversations," they find some relief and relaxation in fly-fishing. Volunteers, whether local or dedicated to the program, work with the men to help teach them the proper techniques of the sport. These volunteers are called "fishing buddies."

"The relationships between the fishing buddies and participants are incredible bonds of friendship," Golub said. "They develop new friendships with people who care; people who can share fishing and life stories."

Anyone with fly-fishing experience and a desire to help can work with their state coordinator and apply at Reel Recovery. (Send questions about the program to Debbie McKinney.)

Reel Recovery's popularity has grown since its beginning in Colorado nine years ago. The first year it held two retreats. This year, 22 retreats are planned across the nation.

"Onalaska is proud to host the organization," Larson said. "They're looking forward to the benefits of meeting these guys."

Golub hopes to expand the program in Wisconsin. The more local support the program receives, the greater the chances it will return to the area. A maximum of 14 men participate per retreat to ensure quality time for developing relationships. For every man participating in the retreat, there is one fishing buddy. The two men are more likely to become close friends and share different experiences that could help the man with cancer understand his own journey.

"It's hard to find other people who understand what you're going through when something like this happens," McKinney said. "[Reel Recovery] is a combination of getting them out to have fun fly-fishing and meeting other men who are going through the same thing."

The experiences taken away by the men are described as life-changing. They tell others about the program with enthusiasm. Dr. Richard "Dick" Wilson, a practicing neurologist in Boise, Idaho, and a member of the Board of Directors for Reel Recovery, recalls his introduction to the program.

"Warren Wolf was a patient of mine," Wilson said. "He told me to go to one of the retreats and experience it for myself."

In 2009, Wilson traveled to Montana to join a retreat hosted there. After seeing the miraculous feats the men encountered and the relationships that developed between each member, Wilson decided to become a part of the program.

"I wanted to bring the program to Idaho," Wilson said. "We want to see the program fortified."

In 2010, he was able to have a Reel Recovery retreat hosted in his state. Last year, Idaho hosted two retreats. Wilson anticipates two more retreats will be held this year.

"There's really no other organization that has support for men with all types of cancer, and most groups can only offer an hour or two to work with these individuals as opposed to getting away for a weekend with these guys and interacting on a personal level," Wilson said. "A retreat fills a real area of need, a void, in our health care delivery."

Wilson was not the only person to witness Wolf's enthusiasm for the program.

"When Warren came back from the retreat he attended in Colorado, he was determined to bring the program to Texas," McKinney said. She had been Wolf's partner and after seeing the good the group had done for him, she supported him and became a part of the program. "We had our first retreat in Texas in 2008 and have continued to have two each year since then."

Wolf had been diagnosed with stage-four melanoma before he attended the retreat. Through his pain, he stayed optimistic about Reel Recovery and continued to gather resources for the program to be introduced around America.

Only men with cancer are allowed to participate in the Reel Recovery retreats. Men with or without cancer can become volunteers, but must know how to fly-fish. The only expense for men participating (not volunteering) is to travel to the retreat and back. Applications are found online at Reel Recovery, Retreat Application and slots fill fast, so if interested apply soon.

Amanda Laurenzi is a staff writer for Wisconsin Natural Resources magazine.

Sister Program – Casting for Recovery

Women who are diagnosed with breast cancer are encouraged to check out the sister program of Reel Recovery: Casting for Recovery.

This program also features fly-fishing and therapy sessions for breast cancer victims. It brings together women who are recovering at any stage of breast cancer and helps them find emotional support. It features river helpers, much like the fishing buddies for Reel Recovery, who guide the women through fly-fishing. To apply to be a river helper, go to Casting for Recovery, Volunteer Application.

Melissa Bearth, the Minnesota/ Wisconsin retreat coordinator, sets up retreats (location, activities, volunteers) and helps with fundraising. She heard about the program by working for The Hartford, an insurance company and Casting for Recovery's biggest sponsor.

"I worked with breast cancer survivors by providing them with insurance," Bearth said. "The Hartford has a strong commitment to breast cancer survivors, and through this company I have learned a lot about it."

For more information email Casting for Recovery or call (802) 362-9181. Contact Bearth by email or call (651) 738-5559. To donate, visit Casting for Recovery.