Fly fish­ing re­treats aid breast can­cer com­bat­ants

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - OUTDOORS - BRYAN HEN­DRICKS

Learn­ing to fly fish lib­er­ated Sherry Barn­hart, an 18year breast can­cer com­bat­ant, but it also in­spired her to lib­er­ate oth­ers.

Barn­hart, a res­pi­ra­tory ther­a­pist at Ar­kan­sas Chil­dren’s Hospi­tal, shares the gift of fly fish­ing through Cast­ing for Re­cov­ery, a non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tion ded­i­cated to help­ing those with breast can­cer con­front and sur­vive the dis­ease through fly fish­ing.

She talked about it Mon­day dur­ing the monthly meet­ing of the Ar­kan­sas Fly Fish­ers at Whole Hog Cafe on Cantrell Road in Lit­tle Rock.

Cast­ing For Re­cov­ery was or­ga­nized in 1996 in Manch­ester, Vt., by a re­con­struc­tive breast sur­geon and a pro­fes­sional fly fish­er­man that rec­og­nized the ther­a­peu­tic power of fish­ing. The or­ga­ni­za­tion’s pri­mary ve­hi­cle is a fish­ing re­treat which it holds in ev­ery state.

To date, Cast­ing for Re­cov­ery has held 550 re­treats that have served 7,500 women. Ar­kan­sas/Ok­la­homa will host 14 women at one of 55 re­treats this year. Barn­hart said the or­ga­ni­za­tion is look­ing for a lead­er­ship team to or­ga­nize a sep­a­rate Ok­la­homa chap­ter to hold a sep­a­rate re­treat that will em­power an ad­di­tional 14 women.

Be­sides the cost of trans­porta­tion, every­thing for the re­treat is free, and the ac­com­mo­da­tions are plush. The last Ar­kan­sas/Ok­la­homa re­treat, for ex­am­ple, was at Dave and Emily Whit­lock’s ranch near Tahle­quah, Okla. The one that Barn­hart first at­tended as a par­tic­i­pant was at Gas­ton’s Re­sort at Lake­view.

“The or­ga­ni­za­tion hopes to give them one week­end of free­dom,” Barn­hart said. “A breast can­cer survivor re­ally doesn’t have any free­dom. It’s al­ways there. The re­treats are places where they are free from the stresses of home, free from the stresses of the work­place and free from the stresses of the dis­ease.”

Fly fish­ing is the lure, but the re­treats dou­ble as sup­port net­works among peo­ple from all walks of life that all have one ma­jor thing in com­mon.

“Sev­enty per­cent of the women that go to the re­treats tell us they’ve never had any type of sup­port group be­fore,” Barn­hart said. “When you go through some­thing that life chang­ing, one of the best medicines is find­ing some­one that has walked that road be­fore you and sur­vived that jour­ney.”

When Barn­hart was fi­nally se­lected to at­tend a re­treat, she had com­pleted breast can­cer treat­ment many years be­fore. She’d en­dured a mas­tec­tomy, chemo­ther­apy and ra­di­a­tion. She had en­thu­si­as­ti­cally sup­ported Race for the Cure and other pro­grams, but like other can­cer sur­vivors, she reached a point where she was ready to put it be­hind her and es­chew re­minders, re­gard­less of their no­ble in­ten­tions. She tried to turn down her in­vi­ta­tion, but Cast­ing for Re­cov­ery would not al­low it.

Barn­hart doesn’t cot­ton to be­ing bossed around, but she wasn’t get­ting out of this one.

“I marched straight over to the Sun­glasses Hut in Park Plaza and bought a pair of Maui Jims that I paid way too much for,” Barn­hart said. “I thought, ‘If I’m go­ing to do this, I’m go­ing to have some good shades.’”

When the re­treat ended, she was trans­formed.

An In­di­ana na­tive, Barn­hart fished as a child with her fa­ther on the Ohio River, but that was perch jerk­ing with a bob­ber and pole. Fly fish­ing was an en­tirely new ex­pe­ri­ence. Ex­perts taught her and the oth­ers to cast, how to tie flies and other es­sen­tial skills.

Like many other par­tic­i­pants, Barn­hart was ini­tially self-con­scious, which is nor­mal when you’re well out­side your com­fort sphere.

“It was on the White River, and I was just try­ing not to fall down in those boots.”

The guide showed her fish in the wa­ter and told her to cast to them. She caught one, but the guide for­got his net. Barn­hart didn’t take that well, ei­ther.

“I was like, ‘Are you kid­din’ me? This is prob­a­bly the one fish I’m go­ing to catch, and you for­got the net? Se­ri­ously?’”

The guide rushed over to bor­row some­body else’s net while Barn­hart bat­tled her fish. She landed it and …

“I was hooked,” Barn­hart said. “When I got that one fish, I didn’t worry any­more about how I casted. I got a fish! When it was time to leave, I didn’t want to go.”

Now, Barn­hart con­tin­ues as a vol­un­teer in hopes that oth­ers may be hooked, as well.

“I want to be in­volved so that other women could be in­spired as much as I was,” Barn­hart said.

For more in­for­ma­tion, visit cast­ing­for­recov­ery.org or call (888) 553-3500.

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