Note: I wrote this story for Sunday's New Castle Courier-Times. Breast cancer survivor Kandi Rutledge remains so moved by attending a Casting for Recovery fishing retreat, an experience that changed her life. She pays it forward as a volunteer for the unique organization that helped her so much. She wants those with breast cancer at any stage to know that they may apply to attend these free retreats.
KNIGHTSTOWN — Kandi Rutledge remembers how touched she was by the warm cookies.
The memory of the unexpected treats brought to her at a 2005 retreat for breast cancer survivors reminds her of why she volunteers for Casting for Recovery, a national nonprofit organization that offers support and educational programs for breast-cancer survivors.
There are two annual two-and-a-half-day retreats each year in Indiana. “This is just like being in a unique world, a perfect world in a way,” Rutledge says of the retreats, which take place at Wooded Glen Retreat & Conference Center in Henryville.
Breast-cancer survivors at any age or stage can still apply for the Sept. 7-9 retreat. Applications are due by June 29. Fourteen are chosen randomly from submissions. To apply online, visit www.castingforrecovery.org.
Since she attended as a survivor, Rutledge has returned once since then as a team member to serve guests.
“To fish is hope,” says Rutledge. “Whether you catch, whether you fish, it’s being in nature and being with others who are survivors."
She says much of the retreat’s joy, in fact, is being with those who have been or are going through what you have. She had fished for years but had never fly-fished until the retreat. Fishing is a reason to get together, but it doesn’t have to be the main reason. In fact, it probably isn’t for most or many who attend.
‘Like a queen’
Rutledge talks about “being treated like queen,” and she mentions the lavish meals, comfortable rooms, bonfire, walks on the trails and yes, instruction in fly fishing, that were part of the weekend. There are also professionals such as psychologists and an oncology nurse or doctor there, and information about support groups and other aspects of the breast-cancer journey.
There are even reunions with the survivors you meet during the weekends. This is the 13th year for the Indiana retreats.
Funding comes from a variety of sources, including individual, organization and corporate donors and grants. She mentions that at the retreats, there have been women as young as 28 and as old as 80, a mother-daughter duo and a woman who is blind.
Along with the emotional connection she finds with other survivors, Rutledge points to experiencing the newness of life in nature and the development of range-of-motion skills often needed by survivors, found with the motion of fly fishing.
If transportation there is a problem, Casting for Recovery will find them rides. She says if selected, it is important for the attendee to compile doctor clearance and the proper medical paperwork.
At age 72 now, Rutledge is a 21-year breast cancer survivor. “If that would give somebody hope, just seeing that someone is 21 years out, that’s what I can do,” she says.
Rutledge worked in the medical field and is now retired. Married to Don, they have a son, Matt, and two deceased daughters, Tami and Anneke. The couple also has nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren and just celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.
She says the good Lord has been with her in her struggles. “He’s been the anchor all the way through,” she says.
Stephanie Probst, also of Knightstown, attended the Henryville retreat last summer. Like Rutledge, she is doing well physically, four years out from HERS2 Stage 4 breast cancer.
She found out about the retreats from information in her doctor’s office.
What she likes best about the experience is having “14 brand-new lifelong friends.” She also loves to fish and has found that the motion involved in fly fishing has been helpful to her own arm movements.
“Fly fishing showed me I can work at it and get it back,” she says.
What she learned about fly fishing at the retreat has led to a new hobby which also serves as therapy. Probst, 55, works in quality control for Keihn in Greenfield. She is married to Jeffery and they have three sons: Bret, Anthony and Nick, along with two granddaughters.
“The retreat made me see how therapeutic fly fishing is; not only physically but it is very relaxing too.”
For more about Casting for Recovery, contact Rutledge at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 765-465-5570. The national website is www.castingforrecovery.org.