breast cancer survivor stories firsts

Breast Cancer Survivor Stories: A Lot of Firsts

The old adage, “you never really know what you are capable of until you’re faced with what you’ve never done,” couldn’t be more true. I have never been fly fishing. I have never been to Pennsylvania. I have never driven a car in New York City. But, an opportunity presented itself to me – and I faced it – head on.

At some point in my treatment or recovery, I had thrown my hat in the ring to a group called “Casting for Recovery.” In August, I was notified my name had been chosen at random to attend a three-day retreat at Skytop Lodge with 15 other survivors. They were going to teach us to fly fish, if I was still interested in participating. As it turns out, this outfit out of Boseman, Montana has been offering survivors these little escape trips for many years. It would be the eighteenth time it was offered at Skytop, and you “only” needed to be a survivor to be part of the lottery. I’d already won that lottery.

The most direct flight was to Scranton, Pennsylvania. Home of “The Office.” But flights were astronomical. The three-day was all expenses paid – if I could get to Skytop on my own. I looked into driving – 11.5 hours – not a commitment I was interested in either. Flights to NYC were cheap. Car rentals were equally cheap. So, I booked a flight and decided to drive from LaGuardia to the Poconos on a beautiful Sunday morning, something I had never done.

I had a nice long gap between my arrival and the check-in for the retreat, so I took advantage of the morning in NYC. breast cancer survivor brooklyn bridgeI grabbed parking in Dumbo and strolled across the Brooklyn Bridge. Another first. It was sunny and warm, and I was surrounded by action. There were brides and bikers, runners and site seers. I took my time, took some pictures, grabbed a coffee in Manhattan and then headed back across. After a quick brunchy-snack in Brooklyn, I was on my way to the mountains.

Skytop is a family resort at the top of the Pokonos. A bit like “Dirty Dancing,” there are events scheduled all day long  – from lawn bowling to skeet shooting, and everything in between. The building is breathtaking. The gardens and grounds were immaculate. It was a storybook setting. When I arrived, the ladies had begun to gather – all ages, all stages and all eager to start the bonding.

Our time at the retreat was loosely structured. We started by getting fitted with our gear – waders – boots – vests. There were several open discussions about our personal experiences with cancer sprinkled in, but not a lot. We learned to tie knots, and how to overhead cast and roll cast. We also learned about bugs and flies, what the pools in the river are called and why fish congregate there. One afternoon before our evening courses, we took a stroll through the woods, up the stream to the waterfalls. Sections of the river were marked off with plastic numbers tacked to trees. These would be our stomping grounds for the morning’s outing on the stream.

When fishing day came, Hurricane Florence came too. The rain was relentless. Our volunteer guides had come from all over the surrounding counties to personally escort us on the stream. 14 men and two ladies. We met them in the lobby, and then brought them to an empty convention room, with high hopes the rain would pass. The leaders of our group had us run through ice breaker exercises where we learned many things about these generous folks. It was their third, sixth and thirteenth time volunteering for this event. They had been fishing since they were 12 years old. They were passionate about conservation. They knew someone who had been affected by breast cancer. The gentlemen at my table were thrilled to be stuck inside, learning more about us. In truth, they said, the years they’d participated, they barely knew the ladies they were guiding on the stream. The rain was a welcome diversion. It was the first time the retreat ended without the ladies getting to fly fish.

breast cancer jeni moore casting for recoveryI left that place with such a big smile in my heart. Tony, my guide, had given me his phone number and a little box of his own tied flies. He was a first time volunteer, was in his mid-seventies and his wife didn’t like to fish. He was wonderful. He will be back. I sort of snuck out without a lot of goodbyes. I knew I’d be too teary-eyed.

I meandered my way back to NYC. I hit the Bushkill Falls just as the skies cleared, and hiked my way up and down the 100-foot drop.  I took a few selfies along the stream, thinking how far away I felt and what mystical places fly fishing could take you. I am so thankful I had that opportunity to learn something new. Even though it didn’t end the way I had thought, it was still an amazing few days of something new.  

I have been fortunate in my treatment and recovery that help and support were in the palm of my hand. A simple S.O.S. to friends to bring bananas or rice, or a text to my doctors about next steps or warning signs. I didn’t have to travel far or ask more than once for someone to give me a ride. Until that weekend, I didn’t realize how much I was still recovering from the trauma of it all, or that, for the first time in a very long time, it was refreshing to talk about my journey in the past tense.

It was the first time I had traveled by myself for myself. I needed it, and they knew how to make it remarkable, especially in the rain.

casting for recovery breast cancer awareness

About Casting for Recovery®

The mission of Casting for Recovery® (CfR) is to enhance the quality of life of women with breast cancer through a unique retreat program that combines breast cancer education and peer support with the therapeutic sport of fly fishing. The program offers opportunities for women to find inspiration, discover renewed energy for life and experience healing connections with other women and nature. CfR serves women of all ages, in all stages of breast cancer treatment and recovery, at no cost to participants. Learn more here.

About Jeni Moore
I was diagnosed at age 43 with stage 3 IDC.
I found a lump myself, in the shower. It was a malignant lymph node.
I received chemo, radiation, a bilateral mastectomy and an oophorectomy.
I am not BRAC1 or BRAC2 positive. I am Chk2 positive. I have a long family
history of breast cancer.
I’ve been a “better half” for 20 years.
I’m a mother of three amazing kids and one ridiculously horrible dog.
I’m a graphic designer by day and a would-be potter by night.
And I am also a survivor.

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