Cancer. Hearing the word, your world becomes an uncertain place. The future turns hazy and gray.

How do you get through it?

That’s a tough question. But for a dozen women, part of the answer was found recently along the Chestatee River through a program known as Casting for Confidence.

Casting for Confidence, a one-day program designed specifically for female cancer survivors, is a fly-fishing-themed outreach by the Georgia Women Flyfishers (GWFF) organization. Offered once a year, the program introduces participants to the art and science of fly fishing with an emphasis on the curative nature of the fly-fishing experience.

Provided to participants at no charge, Casting for Confidence has reached close to 200 women since its inception in 2001.

“It’s an amazing way to give back to women cancer survivors,” said Jennifer Gilbert, president of GWFF. “It is great that through this hobby, we can actually make a difference in women’s lives.”

The day began bright and early, as volunteers from GWFF and the fly-fishing community gathered at Frog Hollow, a private trophy trout stream near Dahlonega. One of those volunteers was Diane Minick, a GWFF member and longtime fly-fishing enthusiast.

“I got involved with Casting for Confidence mainly because I think it’s a wonderful way to give people an opportunity to see beyond their pain and their struggles, and see that there is something beautiful out there for them that they can do,” she said.

Fly fishing is ideal for that, she said, because it doesn’t require a lot of physical effort — something that is important to many of the participants at this point.

The morning began with sessions on choosing equipment, basic fly casting and entomology (that is, insects). The instructor for the entomology portion was no less than yours truly, and we began by talking about some of the bugs trout like to eat. Then, we walked down to the water to see what sorts of bugs we might actually find. Volunteer Scott Hodge put on his waders and made his way out into the current, turning over rocks, catching insects in the fine mesh of a bug net and then bringing them back to bank for us all to see. We “oohed and ahed” over the bugs, and then turned them loose back into the water.

Around noon, we broke for lunch. I grabbed a bite and wandered around a bit, listening. I don’t know what I expected to hear. Sadness? Anger? Various versions of “why me?”

People I know who have dealt with cancer tell me that, yes, at some point, each of those comes up. But I didn’t hear them there at Casting for Confidence. Yes, there were occasional matter-of-fact discussions of treatment options and, now and then, up-front commentaries as the women compared notes on the realities of dealing with various forms of this disease.

But the thing I did not encounter — not at all — was

negativity.

When GWFF’s Liz Lucabaugh approached me about being one of the instructors at this year’s Casting for Confidence event, I asked her what to expect. Without hesitation, she told me that I would find positivity and optimism and determination and hope.

And that is exactly what I discovered that day. The tone everywhere was uplifting and inspiring. I know that borders on cliché, but it’s true.

And on this day, fly fishing was the glue that bound it all together.

After lunch, the attention turned to some actual fishing — and to fly tying, the fine art of creating fishing flies to imitate the bugs that trout like to eat. I was privileged to lead the fly-tying classes, and we took our time exploring the art and handcrafting insect imitations from bits of yarn, thread

and feather. We even tied one that imitates a hellgrammite, a fierce-looking bug that we had found in the stream earlier in the day.

Meanwhile, down the hill, other volunteers helped participants put on waders and get ready to put their newfound fly-casting skills to work on the water.

“I wonder how they’re doing?” one of the fly-tying students asked. An instant later, she had her answer as a chorus of excited yells drifted up the hill from the nearby creek.

Any fly fisher can understand the satisfaction in completing a hand-tied fly or the excitement of bringing a fish to the net. But at Casting for Confidence, there’s more to it than that. At Casting for Confidence, landing a fish or tying a fly becomes a metaphor for so much more.

Lucabaugh puts the overall experience into words.

“These ladies are out there and doing it,” she said. The day “gives them a breath of fresh air…You would never know they are dealing with cancer.”

For women who are dealing with cancer, Minick said, fly fishing can be something that “will help feed their soul and help them feel that there is a real reason for living and continuing.”

Catching a fish, she said, “is just an extra that goes with it.”

To learn more about Georgia Women Flyfishers and the Casting for Confidence program, visit www.georgiawomenflyfishing.com.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Georgia Women Flyfishers is the name of the organization, but the website is georgiawomenflyfishing.

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