I have had the privilege of volunteering with Casting for Recovery (CfR) for the past five years. CfR is a non-profit organization that was founded in 1996 in Vermont by two women, one a breast reconstruction surgeon and the other a professional fly fisher. Their mission was to enhance the quality of life for women with breast cancer through a unique program that combines breast cancer education and peer support with the therapeutic sport of fly fishing. Two-and-a-half-day weekend retreats are open to breast cancer survivors of all ages, from all socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds, in all stages of treatment and recovery and are FREE to participants.
The retreats offer opportunities for women to find inspiration, discover renewed energy for life and experience connections with other women and nature. On a physical level, the gentle, rhythmic motion of fly casting is similar to exercises often prescribed after surgery or radiation to promote soft tissue stretching. And on an emotional level, women are able to experience a new activity in a safe environment amongst a support group of peers and a reprieve from every day stresses and challenges of their cancer.
In September of 2017 I was asked to speak about CfR at the 3rd Annual Central Texas Veterans Conference on Moral Injury. After my presentation and discussion about the inaugural military retreat conducted in West Virginia for military women across the nation, both veterans and active duty, I had an opportunity to speak with a member of the Texas Veterans Commission (TVC). He was impressed by the service that CfR provides and suggested we apply for a grant to help fund a Texas retreat for military women. In 2018 CfR-Texas was awarded a $30,000 grant by the TVC Fund for Veterans’ Assistance.
In April 2019, CfR-Texas held its first retreat for 14 military women in all stages of treatment or recovery from breast cancer at Camp Capers in Waring, Texas. This retreat was inclusive of all 5 service branches (including National Guard and Reservists), race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender identity. Medical and psychosocial sessions provided support for women dealing with issues related to their military and cancer experience. Oncology chair massage was provided along with education about the difference in receiving massage before and after a cancer diagnosis and treatment. (CfR-Central Texas is the only location that offers oncology massage at their retreat.)
There was an incredible camaraderie and support amongst these strong, patriotic American women. Their experiences of both a military career and breast cancer are a powerful bond. They shared their worries, hopes, and dreams and developed friendships that will no doubt last a lifetime. By the end of the weekend there was no doubt in the staff or participants minds that there is a need for more support groups and events for this special group of women.
And there was NO doubt in my mind that oncology massage therapists must continue to provide education to our clients concerning the risk factors associated with massage and cancer. Eight of ten retreat participants who received a chair massage were unfamiliar with risks for lymphedema, contraindications, and types of massage that are appropriate given their breast cancer and treatment regimen.
Mary Liebermann is a member of Oncology Massage Alliance, retired Air Force RN, 14-year breast and 24-year melanoma cancer survivor, and member of the New Braunfels Search and Rescue team who loves to spend time RVing and fly fishing.