Bringing Casting for Recovery to NZ
I worked as a flight attendant for our National Carrier for 20 years witnessing friends and one of my original classmates suffer and die from the ravages of breast cancer. One in particular asked me to be her support person right up to her death and our journey affected me profoundly. So much so I always had a question in my mind of “what could I do to make a difference and how could I give back?” Life went on but this question always remained niggling away at me.
I am a huge fan of our National Icons and Treasures, Lynda and Jools Topp, the Topp Twins, I go to any concert of theirs when I am able to. In 2007 I went to their Recovery Tour to celebrate Jools being able to return to the stage after her breast cancer and mastectomy. It was a wonderful and joyous concert full of fun and laughter and little did I know that this concert would change my life completely. During one of their costume changes a film bio about Casting for Recovery USA was screened and I had an epiphany, it came to me straight away; I didn’t know how I was going to do it but I had to get that programme to New Zealand, so the journey to get it here began.
I started by emailing the The Topp Twins’ Manager and finally I got a response from Lynda saying, if you get it organised and hold a retreat I will be there. Then I had to get through to the USA that I was serious. With the help for Air NZ who sponsored flights for four people to and from the USA and Lynda Topp’s flight we hosted our first retreat in Rotorua in 2010. Lynda Topp made the whole retreat so wonderful and just fitted in as one of the team. In fact she asked us not to make a fuss then we observed as some of the participants finally realised who was with them on the weekend. It was so wonderful to see them hugging and laughing with her. Then two years later a South Island Chapter started up in the Nelson region so Casting for Recovery was now operating in both islands, success at last, I had achieved my goal of giving back.
Five years ago I wasn’t feeling very well, tired and exhausted with absolutely ‘no gas left in my tank.’ I was due to have an annual mammogram in Whakatane in the Eastern Bay of Plenty and picked up an Aunt to take her for a day out as well. She sat in the waiting room and I said, “I won’t be long Aunty, I always sail through these appointments and then we shall go and have lunch at our usual seaside café”. So the procedure began all seemed to be routine, nothing was said until I went to get dressed and the radiographer asked me to remain in my robe in the waiting area then come into the ultrasound room, there’s a shadow on one of your mammogram x-rays, we want to investigate it further. Still I didn’t worry because I have lumpy breasts and this had happened before. Duly the ultrasound was done and I was shown a mass in my left breast, it was deep and already on the bone. I had felt nothing on my routine monthly self-breast examinations. It is also often said a woman’s partner may find a lump and this didn’t happen for us either. It was at this moment I realised I was on a journey with a breast tumor and possible breast cancer, then my world was tipped upside down. Living in the Eastern Bay of Plenty, the District Health Board is very convoluted so I was driving all over the Bay of Plenty to this hospital and that specialist until finally I said to myself I can’t do this anymore and asked to be driven. I had already had a car accident driving myself to Tauranga in a state of complete terror not knowing what was ahead of me, putting on my brave face but lost concentration on a roundabout, missed my turn off lane then cut a truck off that consequently side swiped me. I was driven by some wonderful people mostly elderly volunteers who were given petrol vouchers to take patients around. Within three days I had a punch biopsy taken and left there knowing there was a strong possibility I had breast cancer. For me the 9 days waiting for the punch biopsy results was sheer hell. During these nine days and being the pragmatic person I was, I reflected that I would accept radiography but it was going to be my choice to refuse chemo. I expected to be bullied by the medical system about this choice but I would stand fast and keep saying no. I told my family and partner at the time that they had to respect these wishes. Being Ms Super Organised I also planned my advanced directive and funeral, letters were sent to various friends asking them to sing or speak at my funeral and everyone was prepared whilst we waited. Finally I got my results, still they weren’t sure but they wanted to operate immediately because the tumour was so deep and to the bone. So further weeks of not knowing was beginning to take it’s toll and now I had total understanding for our Casting for Recovery participants and what they have endured.
The most uncomfortable part of the surgery was having the hook wire inserted that leads the surgeon’s scalpel down through the breast tissue to the tumour, then driving back to the hospital to have the procedure done. Another two weeks later and my partner and I are in the specialist’s rooms and we get the good news that I am one of the more fortunate ones, that the tumour was aplastic and they ‘got it in time because had I not had a mammogram I would have full blown breast cancer’. I am eternally grateful to Breast Screen Aotearoa, their fully funded mammogram saved my life. I also have an annual one now funded on the National Health.
I had not realised the effect of this journey on my partner Peter Carty, now my husband until I had my annual mammogram 12 months after my surgery and it was clear, he burst into tears then hugged me. Peter’s mother died from breast cancer when he was in his teens and his grandmother stepped in to the role of mothering he and his siblings. Peter is a stoic, quietly spoken, kind, gentle man and to see this raw emotion from him made me really think about how he had supported me and kept his concerns to himself. I later on learnt he had been supported by another friend’s husband who had been through the same process with his wife. Peter still worries each year around mammogram time and we always go out for dinner on that night to celebrate another year clear.
Fly Fishing helped me in so many ways and I now realised what it does for our participants. Although at times it was uncomfortable and I became very tired it was also a very healing experience. You had to keep a full range of arm movement, you spent time on a river standing in the sparkling, tinkling water with beautiful Brown and Rainbow trout lovingly released to live another day. Now I look back I am eternally grateful for my experience and many things such as possessions that I thought were important no longer are. Each day I do as much as I can with joy now and what is most important to me today is love, family, pets and friends but still most important is time spent on the water either by myself or with my husband Peter Carty one of NZ’s top professional fly fishing guides and fly tyers. He gives up his time unpaid each year to help teach our participants to fly fish and gains huge rewards as he sees the delight on their faces as they realise they are swishing a fly line in the air and having fun.
Ten years on I have handed the programme over and we now chose to support the South Island programme only. CFR NZ has already grown to three retreats per annum in the South Island, such is the generosity of the South Islanders, I should know I married one, the North Island remains at one.
We now reside in the Central Plateau town of Turangi, close to the mountains and almost right beside the mighty Tongariro River where I can stand in that water almost any time I wish to and feel healing taking place all around me whilst having a whole load of fun fly fishing.