Reeling in a New Life

Breast Cancer, Featured Article, Healthy Living, Women's Health
on October 1, 2011
Go Fish
Mark Boughton/clothing: L.L. Bean
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Beneath an ultramarine sky, the early spring air crisp as a bite of celery, L’Tanya Bell wades into an icy current. Outfitted head-to-toe in chest waders, boots and fishing vest, the petite 50-year-old from Nashville, Tenn., fixes her gaze on a glittering patch of stream, her fishing rod springing back and forth, the line spelling a shining “S” in the air as she sends her fly aloft and onto the water’s surface.

Knee-deep in a bend of Middle Tennessee river is the last place L’Tanya ever expected to be. Her journey there began a few days before Christmas 2006, when the customer service rep came home to find husband Harold Jarboe staring, glassy-eyed, at the computer. “The doctor called,” he said, his voice flat with apprehension.

L’Tanya returned the call immediately, her heart pounding. “She didn’t say the C-word,” L’Tanya recalls of the conversation with her physician. “It was quite understood. To say the least, the house fell apart.”

In shock, L’Tanya had a lumpectomy a few weeks later, followed by radiation. Before that December call, she had never been sick. Suddenly, that carefree belief in her own perfect health was gone. “You are broken,” she says. “You just want everything to be normal again.”

A friend who’d nursed a relative through cancer advised L’Tanya to devote most of her energy to getting better. “It changed my whole perspective,” she says. “Cancer is about living, not dying.”

So L’Tanya set about surrounding herself with people who could help her heal, and looked for new experiences that would enrich her life after cancer. After her radiation treatments ended, L’Tanya started training for her first half-marathon with Gilda’s Club (Gildasclub.org), the cancer support group named for comedienne Gilda Radner, who died of ovarian cancer in 1989. Then, she signed up for a Casting for Recovery fly-fishing retreat for breast cancer survivors (Castingforrecovery.org). With the exultation of landing her first trout that spring day—the shimmering line going taut in her hands, and then, holding the fish in her hands before gently sliding him back into the current—she was hooked.

Fly fishing and breast cancer might seem an odd pairing. But in that simple act of casting into new waters, L’Tanya landed new friends, new experiences, a full spectrum of surprises. “I met so many wonderful people that I never would have met,” she says. “I’ve done things I never would have ever done.

“Discovering something new is part of healing,” she adds, a constant reminder that, as she puts it, “There’s something in life other than the C-word.” •