This is Reel Recovery.
The organization was founded in 2003 by a group of fly-fishers who were seeking a way to help a friend, Stewart Brown deal with a diagnosis of brain cancer. The time spent on the river helped Brown to escape from the all-consuming battle with cancer. He could think about the river, fishing and living.
When Brown lost his battle with cancer, his friends decided to give the gift of fly-fishing to other men facing similar life challenges. In the years since, more than 1,000 men have participated in the three day retreats. The program is now national, with retreats held throughout the United States.
"It provides hope, it provides courage, it provides a get-away," Rees Davis, a retreat coordinator for Reel Recovery, said. "A participant will come off the water and he'll say to you, I haven't thought about my cancer once in the last three hours."
Mark Shaw knows better than most the meaning of the program. For the last three years, he volunteered as a fishing buddy for the program, teaching men how to fish, how to appreciate the river and how to live. This year he returned, but in a way he would have never guessed.
"April 9th of this year I had a grand mal seizure and later that day I found out I had a brain tumor," Shaw said. "Nobody ever said, 'You have cancer,' it was just a known fact."
Known too was the fact that it would tough fight to beat the disease. After surgery, he faced a year and a half of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Doctors at the Colorado Neurological Institute have attacked the cancer aggressively with the best protocols available. Battling cancer though is tough on the body and the mind.
"I think it is tougher mentally than physically," Shaw said. "Mentally, you go to places that you've never been. You look at your life and you reflect on it because you don't know that you're going to win."
Reel Recovery retreats allow participants like Shaw realize they are not alone in their fight with the disease. The 11 other participants at the retreat all were facing one form of cancer or another.
"It puts you in a position where you know that other people are fighting the same battles you are. You don't feel alone," Shaw said.
While doctors work to save Shaw's life, the Reel Recovery retreat let him live it. For three days in late September, he enjoyed the river the way he has for most of his life. He soaked in the scenery alive with autumn colors, breathed in the crisp mountain air and listened to the steady sound of the river.
And he caught fish.
"I haven't had the chance to fly-fish all year. For me this was the summer that wasn't," Shaw said.
He is hoping that by next year the treatments will leave him cancer free and able to return to a Reel Recovery retreat once again. His hope is to be there as a fishing buddy, one who has a better understanding than most of what Reel Recovery is all about.
For more information about Reel Recovery, visit their website at www.reelrecovery.org.
(KUSA-TV © 2011 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)