CASTALIA, Ohio - Nancy May had just finished her first morning on a trout stream, casting with a flyrod and trying to tempt a rainbow trout into inhaling a special pink-and-white fly, an "RHI."
Her summary remark? "Do we have to go eat?"
May, it seemed, was so taken by her initiation into this angling tradition that she easily could have skipped lunch. She wanted to feel the electricity of a trout on a wispy flyrod again, as she had three times that morning. (She landed two, lost one).
All of which was music to Judy Walle's ears. She and her husband, Dick, both avid fly-fishing veterans, are behind Reeling and Healing Inc., or RHI.
It is an organization which conducts fly-fishing retreats for women recovering from breast cancer, like May and four other women. An RHI program began Sunday night at Rockwell Springs Trout Club here and ends today.
"It's wonderful just forgetting about everything else," said May of Grand Rapids. "You can't worry about anything out here, just casting to the right spot."
You can take those words to the bank, from a cancer survivor, a calm, pleasant woman who cheerfully notes: "I've never had a bad hair day since I got my hair back.
"It's been five years since my treatment was ended. They discovered it in 2000."
May goes on enthusiastically about exercise programs, Toledo's Victory Center for breast cancer survivors, and Reeling and Healing, which she learned about through the center.
"All this stuff that goes on," she added, speaking also of a survivors' breakfast for 650 women. "This is all so fascinating. I'm just excited about it all.
"I used to go fishing in Lake Erie with my dad. But that was for perch with a worm," said May. During lunch she was glad to learn that she could use a flyrod to catch bluegills and bass at the pond at home - besides trout in a private stream such as the one at Rockwell Springs or the wild streams of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and beyond.
"RHI's mission is to introduce women in recovery from cancer to the healing powers of the sport of fly-fishing by providing a unique outdoor experience, renewed perspective, new friendships, and a very special source of hope," says the organization's mission statement. "The enlightening results experienced by the participants, over a two-and-a-half-day period, can become a powerful resource and assist in their overall recovery from cancer."
Many survivors, RHI notes, have no one with similar experience with whom to interact. Making such connections are the heart and soul of the retreat.
Walle said she has been involved in the program for 10 years and she and Dick have worked 22 retreats. "I love fly-fishing and I like to share my sport [especially] with women who have gone through some hard times."
Initially a friend introduced her to such fishing-survivor programs and she was hooked.
"Everybody has their own unique story and everyone is different."
Walle's mother, Norma Cole, a former Toledoan living in New Jersey, is a breast-cancer survivor. So is her sister-in-law, Anita Cole, a double-mastectomy survivor in Burlington, N.J.
RHI participants learn the basics of fly-fishing, fly-tying, and a few knots, and quickly are put in touch with the stream and the fish. "It can be as complicated as you want to make it," said Dick Walle, "and some of us make it more complicated than it needs to be."
He ties the RHI flies for retreat participants. They are among "four hundred dozen" flies that he ties annually. "I was fly-deprived as a child, " he suggests.
Jennifer Alexander, who teaches public administration at Cleveland State University, was the first woman to wear the "red boa," which ceremonially is draped on each participant who catches a fish.
She previously had fished at Rockwell with a friend, member Roberta Steinbacher, but had caught no trout until yesterday. "I like the catch and release. It was good to release it.
"I've been around fishing all my life," Alexander said, in between casts and an "I-got-it-I-lost-it" encounter with another trout. But until now she had not been much involved. "I know where I want it to be [the cast]. The issue is getting it there again." Her focus is intense, but she tells her story as she casts.
"It was 1998. I got breast cancer when I was 42. I dreamt about it. I woke up in the middle of the night and thought something was wrong."
A mammogram at Cleveland Clinic turned out OK, but Alexander agreed to the removal of a fibroid cyst. "An incidental finding was that I had breast cancer in the surrounding tissue. It hadn't even made a lump."
Alexander asserts that she is not psychic, referring back to the unusual dream. "It could have gone a couple years before anything showed. It's a blessing."
Her father's three sisters all had breast cancer, Alexander noted, saying that former thinking that breast cancer runs on the mother's side of the family is not necessarily so.
So now she is joining the fishing ranks with buddy Steinbacher and her boyfriend. "We've all kind of decided that it's a great way to release."
Sally Korona of Strongsville, outside Cleveland, said that she "caught a couple but they got away." She fished very little prior to the RHI retreat. "I love it. I can't believe the time went so fast out there. I like the mental aspect of it. You're outdoors, you're totally involved in something. You forget.
"How many things can you do that with?" she asked, referring to life's many distractions. She was going home to spread the word.
Claudia Johnson of Maumee, one of the crew of volunteers assisting in the fishing and fly-tying, provided each participant with a pin-on fly "patch" of fluff, to hold flies at the ready, along with some "survivor pink" flies.
Summed Johnson: "I think that the volunteers come away with as much as the participants. You can learn a lot from these ladies and their courage."
Meanwhile on the stream, May was casting and wondering about the day's catch-and-release rule. It had been suggested that they wait until today to keep any fish to take home to eat.
Said May, in the ever-optimistic spirit of a true angler, "if it's over three feet long, I think we'll keep it."
For more information on RHI retreats, call the Walles at 419-944-4809, or e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org -83.83276 Nancy May had just finished her first morning on a trout stream, casting with a flyrod and trying to tempt a rainbow trout into inhaling a special pink-and-white fly, an "RHI."