• Georgia Skuza

"Hooked on Hope": How Fly Fishing Saves Lives

Updated: Feb 5

UPDATE 2/5/2022: Paint the Delaware Pink have scheduled their retreat dates for September 9th-11th, 2022. You can find more information on their Instagram or on their website.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month in the United States. Like many of the months dedicated to raising awareness, the pink ribbon symbolizes survivors, honoring those we have lost, and those who are currently fighting.

Statistically speaking, 330,790 new breast cancer cases will be diagnosed in women this year alone (American Cancer Society, 2021). Breast Cancer affects one in eight women in the United States (Breastcancer.org, 2021). Breast cancer is more common in black women under the age of 45, as well as women with relatives from certain ethnic backgrounds; specifically Ashkenazi Jews, due to the BRCA 1 and 2 gene that some women will inherit (Breastcancer.org, 2021).

With statistics as harrowing as these, it is imperative that those who have survived, and those who are currently battling, have an outlet to heal.

Survivors of traumatic experiences such as cancer have found different ways to heal. Some find support groups or dabble in meditative practices. Others utilize an extraordinary sport: fly fishing.

Beth Zmijewski, wife, mother, veterinarian, and breast cancer survivor, refused to let her diagnosis define her. Instead, she took the opportunity to lead and heal – not only for herself, but for others. As an avid fly fisherwoman, Beth had found solace in the nature surrounding her, and the tranquility of the sport.

As a result of her diagnosis and experience with the healing powers of fly fishing, Paint the Upper Delaware Pink: Hooked on Hope was born. Paint is a fly-fishing retreat in Starlight, Pennsylvania. Starlight sits on the West Branch of the Delaware River, one of the leading locations for fly fishing on the east coast.

Since 2018, Paint has been a three-day retreat allowing survivors and current warriors of breast cancer to experience the Catskills in its purest form. The retreat is held in September, on the cusp of autumn with the river and fishing in its fall prime.

As an all-inclusive retreat, participants are supplied with all the essentials a novice fly fisherman, or woman, could need: waders, wading boots, a fly rod, a reel, flies, and plenty of hats.

While staying on the banks of the West Branch of the Upper Delaware River, participants are housed in an authentic fishing lodge, and get to enjoy new experiences and learn while on the journey of healing. From yoga and floats down the river to seafood boils and fishing — this retreat is a unique and tranquil method of healing and remembrance.

Experiencing the serenity of nature can be extraordinarily healing for cancer survivors. In a National Center for Biotechnology Information journal, studies have shown that immersing oneself in nature has aided in releasing the strain and worry of the diagnosis, as well as the toll treatment regiments may take on someone. Nature offers “a safe refuge” and the different stimulants one finds in nature has been proven to calm patients and survivors (BMC Cancer, 2017).

The month of October is not only a month of remembrance and honoring survivors, but also a month of opportunity — an educational opportunity. It is never too early for women, nonbinary folk, and men to perform self-examinations on their breasts. The recommended age to receive a mammogram is 40 to 44, with exceptions if you have a genetic mutation or a familial history of breast cancer. However, you must be your own advocate — if you feel as though there is something wrong, don’t be afraid to speak up.

Due to the pandemic, Paint the Upper Delaware Pink: Hooked on Hope has been postponed for the last two years; however, the 2022 dates are to be announced in the coming months.

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