CHANEYSVILLE, Pennsylvania — Anne Toland just arrived back at the River Mountain resort nestled between the Warrior and Tussey Mountain ridges here in Black Valley. She is wearing turquoise and gray outdoor gear and a broad smile. Toland has just gone trout fishing for the first time since she was a child, and she is delighted by the experience.
“Fishing was a blast. The entire outdoor experience here has been so welcoming, and so has the camaraderie that has formed. You see, all of the women here have been diagnosed with cancer, and the objective of this program is to connect us not just with other women who are having similar experiences, but also with the power of nature in recovery,” said Toland, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2017.
“We found I had a tumor against my chest wall, and they identified it from a mammogram. I had absolutely no symptoms. I had no idea. I felt fine. I didn't feel any different than normal. So that routine mammogram saved my life,” she said.
Standing in a pasture hours from the nearest city in the state, Toland is one of 14 women chosen by a lottery-type program to attend Casting for Recovery, a cancer rehabilitation that is unlike anything you’ve ever seen before, centering on the spiritual and physical benefits that fly fishing can have on cancer survivors.
“There is also an emotion benefit as well. This is the sisterhood of the stream,” Toland said, adding what she loved about it the most outside of the bonds that had formed and the physicality of it was that the recovery retreat took them out of the sterile, fluorescent, and windowless rooms to show them empowerment through nature.
Dressed in a cheerful, bright-pink, lightweight running jacket and purple shorts, with her long, blond hair pulled up in a ponytail, Marci Sturgeon said that the women came together to learn the art of fly fishing. “The motions of fly fishing help women build strength and heal after a mastectomy or lumpectomy,” said Sturgeon, who has been involved with Casting for Recovery's wellness team for over 10 years as the psychosocial facilitator.
“I'm a mental health therapist,” she said. Sturgeon is also definitely the camp cheerleader, and each woman at the retreat responds easily to her as she leads different workshops that focus on physical and mental health recovery.
“The retreat is a lot more than just physical. We had some workshops that focused on horticulture, plant therapy. We did some drumming with some big exercise balls, some grounding strategies they can use at home,” she said.
Sturgeon, who says she seeks to bring holistic wellness from a mind-body experience, works with Diane Buchbarke, a medical oncologist, who says she brings her expertise of answering the hard questions.
Buchbarke has been doing this as a volunteer for four years. “I do talks about breast cancer and just here for support. Women ask questions all weekend about breast cancer,” she said.
Over a dozen water helpers, all volunteers, teach the women the fundamentals of fly fishing; from them, they soon learn as they fish Town Creek how spiritual fly fishing can be to the soul.
All of them seemed to get as much pleasure and awe out of the experience as the women did.
The retreat was also visually stunning: The new resort is an extraordinary facility that sits sit in the traditional unceded territory of the Massawomeck; it features breathtaking views of the Appalachian Mountains (mainly because it's in the center of them) and offers choices of brand new cabins with wide window views, as well as yurts and glamping tents.
Toland captured best what all the women felt as the weekend drew to a close, and that was the camaraderie that developed between the women: “It's a sisterhood. It’s the sisterhood of the fly rod.”