Divas on the Fly Go Fishing for Recovery

by Wayne Pealo
A small ripple appears in the water as the fly gently touches down outside of the large ring left by the rising trout. As the Diva begins her retrieve with the precision of a master fly caster, the line goes tight. The water erupts in a shower of spray and silver flash as the trout has become aware of the stinging sensation in its mouth. The reel screams and the battle begins for both fish and fisherwoman.

The nineteen mid island breast cancer survivors from the Divas on the Fly program have honed their fly fishing skills well during their recent weekend retreats at Tamagawa Center in Cedar, outside of Nanaimo. Over the past two years, The Island Waters Fly Fishers and the British Columbia Federation of Fly Fishers have supported this new and unique program for breast cancer thrivers. Combining with a medical team from the Cancer Clinic in Nanaimo, community volunteers and sponsors, the project has been a major success. The focus of the project has been to enhance the well-being and quality of life of breast cancer survivors through outdoor leisure activities, with a focus on fly fishing. “I was very excited to be a part of the inaugural Divas on the Fly weekend.  I had never fly fished before and the opportunity to leave all the worries and stresses of regular life behind for the weekend and try something new in a beautiful outdoor setting was very appealing.  I was 4 years past diagnosis when I attended.  Prior to my cancer diagnosis, I had been quite an active person.” 



The therapeutic effects of outdoor leisure activities have been well documented over the past decade. Benefits such as stress reduction, spirituality enhancement from being at one with nature, physical fitness enhancement and a feeling of increased self esteem are potential outcomes from such activity. Fly fishing is an individual outdoor sport which provides the participant with many skills including entomology, fly casting, knot tying and reading the water in search of the elusive Piscator, but most importantly, participants spend time on the water practicing sustainable fishing methods. “I was intrigued by the chance to learn fly fishing and see if it could be something I could add to my life.  From the moment I entered the building, there was an instant chemistry between myself and the other participants.  We were all there not just as cancer survivors, but as women who were embarking on a new outdoor pursuit.”

            As the fish continues its fight for survival there is an ironic but unique experience unfolding for the Divas. Both fish and fisherwoman are engaged in a battle for life, enhancing their journey through this beautiful outdoor setting!  “Whether it is hiking, or biking (which is my new additional outdoor "passion"), fly fishing or boating, I think there is a definite shift from activities I felt I "should" do, to activities which support my health and wellbeing. However when my prognosis made me realize there is not unlimited time to live my life, suddenly it is out in the world of nature where I MUST be

The main goal of the Divas on the Fly project is to provide breast cancer survivors with an opportunity to experience the sport of fly fishing. Secondary goals include providing the participants with a chance to enhance their quality of life through outdoor leisure activity and providing social support for women with similar medical challenges.



I do not think it makes a difference at all whether it is dragon boating, hiking, fly fishing, or bungee jumping -- it is beneficial to find SOMETHING which touches nature and brings joy.  Somehow we get comfortable with eternity when we are outdoors, and neither today, nor the uncertain future is quite so important.”

The Divas project is conducted as a weekend retreat with participants spending two nights and days learning the sport of fly fishing. Friday evening consists of a meet and greet session, an introduction to the facility and some fine snacks and beverages from the Tamagawa kitchen. Saturday begins with a wellness session before breakfast in the lounge overlooking the beautiful lake. A hearty and nutritious breakfast provides the energy necessary for the Divas to participate in the morning session learning how to tie flies and create their own patterns. Lunch is another opportunity to socialize over a healthy meal and scrumptious desserts. During the afternoon, participants learn the art of fly casting and how to present the fly on flat water. Saturday evening dinner is an experience and opportunity to sample some of the fine cuisine offered with a Japanese touch. The Fly Fishing Jeopardy game is the evening activity which provides many laughs and an opportunity for participants to review the day’s learning.



Sunday morning brings another opportunity to experience a wellness session such as yoga or massage therapy prior to another hearty breakfast from the Centers’ kitchen staff. The focus of Sunday is to practice the skills learned on Saturday through sustainable fishing methods.  Lunch is provided at the lake and the participants continue to socialize and build camaraderie. The day culminates in an award ceremony and reflection on the weekends activities.

            As the lactic acid quickly builds up in the trout’s body, it begins to tire and slowly works its way toward the shoreline, unsure of the future in this beautiful outdoor setting. The Diva has found Piscator and she gently removes the hook from the mouth of the fish and releases it back to the shimmering waters of the lake.

The experience of being briefly transported out of our normal lives into a gorgeous outdoor setting where we were fed nutritious and delicious food, surrounded by our "sister survivors" was also extremely motivating. The beauty of DOTF is that it introduces an outdoor experience which requires no prior skill or fitness level and very little equipment in a group atmosphere of support and conviviality”.

The Divas on the Fly project has been a great success for the participants and volunteers. It has created a different approach to the awareness of breast cancer “thrivership” in society today and an enhancement of quality of life in the project participants. “As an outdoor person already, I still very much appreciated the chance to try something new in an extremely supportive environment, and for that I say "Thank you!

The 2011 DOTF weekend is scheduled for May 27 – 29 at the Tamagawa Center in Cedar. For further information see the DOTF website at www.divasonthefly.ca

Author: Wayne Pealo, PhD, Director, Island Waters Fly Fishers

Photographs: Daphne Wizinsky