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Keeping it reel


GOOD WILL Lottie Weston and Jill Grieve of Casting for Recovery UK and Ireland are pictured (centre) with Caroline Napier and Val Wilson from Mount Falcon Estate.

Breast cancer survivors find rich rewards along the River Moy

Ciara Galvin

EVERY year a group of women gather in the beautiful surrounds of Mount Falcon Estate Ballina. They are all strangers, leading different lives, living in different places, but they share one common experience: surviving breast cancer.
What started off as a novel way to help cancer sufferers in the United States around 20 years ago has now became an annual trip to Mayo for rest, relaxation and fishing.
Casting for Recovery UK & Ireland is a unique fly-fishing programme for women with breast cancer, and this year, nine women came to the idyllic estate to learn how to fish, as well as bond with fellow survivors and take time out for themselves.
Along with learning the basics of fly fishing on the River Moy, the group attended counselling and medical support groups over the weekend, which is funded by Casting for Recovery UK & Ireland.
So why did an organisation based in the UK decide to bring one of its groups to Ballina?
Speaking to The Mayo News a few days after this year’s Mount Falcon trip, which took place over the weekend of May 13, Jill Grieve from the organisation explained that groups have been coming to Mayo every year for seven years now, after Jim and Val Wilson of Mount Falcon first made contact.
“We’re in Mount Falcon since 2009, and I think we will always come back. It has everything we need. This year, we had women from Mayo, Galway, North Cornwall. Cancer has no borders, so we try and reach as many ladies as possible,” said Jill.
The unique formula of fly fishing, counselling and medical advice is used to promote mental and physical healing to women whose lives have been profoundly affected by breast cancer. Fly fishing requires no strength at all, yet it gets the women moving, making it perfect physical therapy. The focus of the weekend is very much on moving forward.
Often women fighting breast cancer must fit treatment around their family lives, and Jill explains that this is why retreats like this are so important.
“This is giving them time for themselves, giving them a chance to talk to people like themselves. We have a top team of medics, counsellors and the best fly fishers in place.”
Jills goes on to say that the best aspects of the retreat for women are, of course, catching a fish and making new friends.
“What we have heard is that women return to their families with a big smile on their faces –and a fish. Husbands see them happy, and it’s a ripple effect. It’s a lovely experience, they make new friends and form close bonds and they do stay in touch,” she adds.
Over the weekend, the women not only benefit from counselling, they also get the support of plenty of peer-to-peer advice from fellow survivors. Some of the women who go are just over their treatment, while others have overcome breast cancer 20 years ago and have a wealth of comforting knowledge and experience to impart.
“It’s great for women. One can say, ‘I was like you, and here I am doing great’. It’s such a scary thing but you can move forward from it.”
Though the retreat encourages the women to get involved in learning how to fish, Jill says there is never any pressure.
“If you just want to sit at the lake with a book that’s fine, but mostly all of the group will get out there as much as they can.”
Jill was full of praise for everyone at Mount Falcon, complimenting their service to the group. At the most recent retreat, the Mount Falcon team also presented a cheque for €2,000 to Casting for Recovery UK & Ireland, to help cover the costs of the charitable project. The funds were raised by a ladies’ lunch at the hotel during Breast Cancer Awareness Month last October. Another such lunch is planned for this year to raise money for next year’s retreat.
The organisation holds four such fly-fishing getaways each year between Ireland and the UK, and it hopes to increase this number to seven next year. “Eventually, one a month would be great,” said Jill.
While the idea of marrying fly fishing and breast-cancer recovery might seem a little far fetched to some, for Jill, the results speak for themselves: “The shrieks of delight as the ladies all caught rainbow trout on Sunday make it all worthwhile.”