Maggi Welch has a couple of gigs on tap this particular May afternoon – such is the life of the 71-year-old lead singer of a traditional Irish music band, the Flat Rock Irregulars.
“To say we’re an eclectic group is putting it mildly,” Welch says.
The intrepid North Platte musician has collected a number of other titles through the years: Navy veteran, retired customer service professional, writer, artist and, in 2017, breast cancer survivor.
“That wasn’t a journey I planned to take,” she says. “I remember sitting at home, by myself, and I was scared. Suddenly, a voice in my head – that was not my voice – said, ‘You’ll be fine.’ All my doubts and fears vanished.”
Welch opted to undergo a single mastectomy, and today she is cancer-free, a survivor who has parlayed that chapter into yet another title: fly fisher.
During a stint in Oregon years ago, Welch says she wanted to learn but couldn’t find anyone to teach her. Enter Casting for Recovery (CfR), a nonprofit dedicated to enhancing the quality of life of women with breast cancer through inspiration, education – and fly fishing.
Welch was one of 14 breast cancer fighters selected to attend CfR Nebraska’s latest retreat – April 22-24 – at Ponca State Park in Ponca. Free to participants, a second 2018 retreat is scheduled in October at the Prairie Club in Valentine. Nebraska is one of only a handful of states that hosts two programs each year.
“We found out that we women are a lot stronger than we may have thought,” Welch says.
During the two-and-a-half-day experience, facilitated group sessions allow attendees to share fears, concerns and hopes; learn more about the medical and psychological aspects of breast cancer; and practice communication skills. And, there is fly fishing – not just a pastime, but also a complementary therapy.
“On a physical level, the gentle, rhythmic motion of fly casting is healthy for the upper body and encourages mobility for women after surgery or radiation,” says Linda Lovgren, president and CEO of Lovgren Marketing Group and CfR Nebraska’s program coordinator.
No experience necessary, women are outfitted with equipment and participate in classes and casting sessions. At the end of the retreat, they test their skills with the help of river guides. Welch’s guide, Ed, watched his protégé catch the very first fish of the day, a rainbow trout.
“The rule is the first person to catch a fish has to kiss it,” Welch recalls – so she did.
CfR participant feedback includes words like “joy,” “bonded” and “life-changing,” Welch says. “Being able to share what you’ve been through with others is very beneficial and very healing because you know you’re not alone.”
Women of all ages, in all stages of breast cancer treatment and recovery, can apply for one of each retreat’s 14 spots. Once randomly selected, the group attends free of charge thanks to donors and sponsors, including Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Nebraska.
Singer-survivor Welch says she would love to go on another retreat or serve as a volunteer: “One of the main things I took away from the retreat was the amount of courage” found among the women.
Lovgren says CfR participants – from Welch on down – truly are fearless: “They’ve resolved for breast cancer to be a journey, not something that defines them. The CfR Nebraska team is passionate that these women can leave with new perspectives, enthusiasm and quality of life.”