Finding Solace With Reel Recovery
Frederick Thurber shares how he found comfort amid his prostate cancer battle through Reel Recovery, a fly fishing retreat for men living with or after cancer.
After watching my father and father-in-law being consumed by it, cancer has inhabited a dark place in my soul. I was hoping to avoid a similar fate but was devastated when a diagnosis of stage IIIC prostate cancer came back after a biopsy.
But, as I was to find out, there was an escape from my despair and self-pity.
Starting the healing process
The healing process began when I got an email from an organization called Reel Recovery that runs fly fishing retreats for men with cancer. I was shocked to find out that I had been accepted to their retreat on the Yellowstone River in the aptly-named Paradise Valley of Montana.
After reading and re-reading the email, my transformation was profound; I had something to look forward to and, as it turned out, the retreat was better than I could have possibly imagined.
Upon arrival in Montana, my first impressions were how beautiful the country was and how friendly the people were, especially Tim Rote and the other volunteers who ran the retreat.
The first organized activity of the retreat was the first of what Reel Recovery calls their “courageous conversations.” As we gathered in the bunkhouse, I could not understand why they set out boxes of tissues next to every seat. But when the facilitators started asking us about our experiences with cancer, I got a quick education.
Over the course of a few courageous conversations, we were able to unburden ourselves and bond with others in the group. I was amazed at what some of these men had endured and how they had never given up, even when written off by their doctors. Listening to these brave men beneath the cathedral-like ramparts of the nearby Absaroka mountain range, I never felt closer to god.
Forming a close bond
The next day, we had the first of three trips drifting the legendary Yellowstone River in pursuit of its famous trout. We had a great time; I have never seen so many trout. Although there is a big difference between seeing trout and catching trout, it was one of the greatest fishing experiences of my life.
While the retreat was advertised as a fishing retreat, it was a lot more than that. What really made the trip special for me was the warmth of the volunteers, the magnificent scenery, and the bonding of the men in our group.
Most of us had experienced difficult times with our disease, but here we were laughing and joking and carrying on, led by our chief mischief maker, Steven, a retired schoolteacher from Idaho with stage IV prostate cancer.
Not going down without a fight
On the third day, we wrapped up the retreat with the last of our ceremonies under a weeping willow treat at the ranch. While thunderclaps, sounding like the kettle drums of Heaven, echoed off the nearby Gallatin mountains, I realized that I had never met such a brave and tough group of men. With a tinge of melancholy, I suspected that many had made their last cast, but I was sure that none of them would go down without a fight.
Since the retreat in 2019, two of the participants, Mike and Josh, have lost their battle with cancer, and my best friend at the retreat, Steven, is in hospice care. But for three incandescent days under the big sky of Montana, we lived life to the fullest.
An unforgettable experience
From the searing emotions of the courageous conversations, to the exquisite joy of drifting one of the greatest trout rivers in the country, to the hilarity of Steven’s jokes, we experienced it all. The intensity of this experience lives with me to this day.
For this and the companionship of the fellow men with cancer I met, I will be eternally grateful to Reel Recovery and the volunteers who ran the retreat. They have made a difference for me and thousands of other men.
What was the most difficult part of your diagnosis?