In this series, Flylords had the chance to partner with BUFF to highlight some outstanding members of the fly-angling community who are taking action to drive change in their communities and the world. Through the lens of struggle, perseverance, and a passion for bettering the world; we aim to share the stories of these anglers and their corresponding organizations to inspire future generations.
Katie Cahn is the embodiment of perseverance. Through her battle with cancer, she has dedicated herself to finding ways to uplift those fighting similar battles by utilizing her own experiences. Here, Katie walks us through her story of survival and perseverance, and how alongside Casting for Recovery, she embodies what it really means to be an angler driving change.
We had a chance a touch base with Katie after our shoot in September to provide an exclusive behind-the-scenes interview. Check it out here:
FL: Who are you?
Katie: I’m Katie Cahn. A woman whose passionate about rivers and their inhabitants. I’m also passionate about the internal well-being of humans.
FL: How long have you been fishing? How did it make its way into your life?
Katie: I’ve been fishing ever since I was a kid, but I’ve been flyfishing for the past 10 years. I was introduced to flyfishing when I attended college at Western Carolina University. I learned on delayed harvest sections but quickly made my way to the blue lines of western North Carolina to fish for native brook trout.
FL: When you were first diagnosed, what was going through your head? How did these thoughts change as you embarked on your journey through treatment and then recovery?
Katie: When I found out I had cancer I could barely speak. I had the tumor removed 14 hours after my diagnosis. So, because it happened so fast I didn’t have much time to process what was happening. When I got out of the hospital I was so scared to know what the pathology report showed. When I found out the cancer had not spread, and therefore did not need further physical treatment, I was able to breathe and work through some of the trauma. Depression slowly crept in and I felt like I had fallen into the darkest hole. I had friends all around me, but I felt so alone. With the help of anti-depressants, good therapy, and lots of flyfishing I was able to change my thoughts from, ‘I want to die,’ to ‘Today I am alive and today I will live.’
FL: Can you explain how you utilized fishing to help you get through the struggles of that time?
Katie: When I got diagnosed and was in the hospital recovering from surgery, it had not rained in a full month. For two months after, it didn’t rain. I didn’t feel like I was missing much on the river, but I did feel like the world was coming to an end. I live in a temperate rain forest section of the country and we were experiencing drought and wildfires. I really thought I was losing it. I didn’t get back on the water until after the second surgery where they removed my ovary and appendix due to a large benign tumor (not related to the kidney cancer). That was nine weeks after having my kidney removed. Six days after the second surgery I went flyfishing and caught one trout. I was still bandaged up and weak, but I so desperately needed that fish. And it helped in so many ways. Not long after that trip to the river, I was asked to be a flyfishing guide for Headwaters Outfitters in Rosman, NC. That was five months after the cancer diagnosis. Becoming a guide gave me a new outlook on life. That’s about the same time I was asked to volunteer with Casting for Recovery.
FL: When did you get involved with CFR and what is your involvement now?
Katie: My first year with CFR I just showed up on the third day of the retreat to help guide one of the 15 women in the group. I made friends with the program directors and they asked me to come back next year to help out with the full retreat. Now, every year I help teach the women about the bugs trout eat, the way fish move in the water, knot tying and tying flies, wardrobe stuff, and help coordinate “on the water day” with the other volunteers.
FL: When working with the ladies from CFR, both volunteers and those in the program – what’s something you aim to inspire while on the water?
Katie: As a group, we aim for the women to feel comfortable as well as successful on the water. We don’t guarantee they will catch a fish, but we do try to guarantee they will be happy and fulfilled on the water. I aim to inspire women to do something that they never thought could be done. I aim to inspire confidence.
FL: Was there a defining moment during your journey with CFR when it all “clicked” and you realized this was something you really wanted to be a part of?
Katie: Oh yes. My first day as a volunteer, in pure Katie Cahn fashion, I walked into the wrong room on accident. I sat down and listened to the group of women talk about their struggles with being diagnosed with cancer. This was seven months after my diagnosis. I listened to these women and felt their pain and just wanted to hug each one of them and let them know I understood what they were going through. I found out later that day that a lot of the volunteers for CFR are cancer survivors and was told that the retreats are about the participants, not the volunteers. Knowing that the volunteers knew what these women were going through made me feel right at home and has helped me heal in so many ways.
FL: Moving forward, what does your future with CFR look like?
Katie: I hope to be part of these retreats every year for the rest of my life. CFR has opened doors for other non-profit organizations that are helping fight the good fight. I have recently been asked to be a board member for an organization that takes women that are in drug and alcohol recovery flyfishing.
FL: What were you able to draw from your personal struggle that you now use to help others.
Katie: I was able to understand what helped me get out of that dark hole. Depression is different for everyone and I don’t take that lightly. What helped me was the river and throughout my life, the river has been a constant reprieve from all struggles life has thrown my way. I like to ask people, ‘What makes you feel at peace?’ This usually turns into a conversation about the important places or undertakings in his or her life and that can really help motivate a person to get back to those places.
FL: As an “Angler Driving Change”, where does your mission lie? Where do you see a place for change and what are you doing to help?
Katie: Since the diagnosis, my mission lies with interpersonal health and wellbeing. I know that mental health is hard to obtain in some situations, whether it be finding a good counselor or a facility that offers free counseling. There are many people suffering from mental illness. I share my story not only for my own healing, but to help others heal as well. I can’t tell you how many conversations I have had on Instagram with people from all over the world that reach out to tell me their story. When you hear others stories you don’t feel as alone. The change I would like to see is more opportunity for youth to learn to fly fish, and with that, honor the rivers, oceans, lakes and streams that provide them the opportunity to catch those fish. When you have something that you love and it also makes you feel strong or accomplished, you seek that out for the rest of your life. I’m just a volunteer and I appreciate the hell out of the people that are organizing these programs. When I get more time, I’d like to be the one organizing.
FL: Do you have any words of advice for young people/ anglers going through similar issues in their lives?
Katie: Yes. Life is about growth. Whether it’s something good or bad that happens in our lives, we grow from it. We can take those experiences and turn them into lessons and turn those lessons into our story.
Thank you, Katie, for sharing your remarkable story with us. To learn more about Katie’s story, Casting for Recovery, and other ‘Anglers Driving Change’; head over to BUFF’s website. Thank you to Casting for Recovery and BUFF for helping make this project possible.