Oct 20, 2016

Finding a Cure Through the Great Outdoors

There has always been one constant in my life, one thing that no matter what was going wrong I could always count on to keep my stress in check: 

the great outdoors. 

 The thing about being outdoors and in nature is that even if the weather is poor, or the fishing is sub par, it still works its magic.  I think a huge part of that is realizing what and where you are in the grand scheme of things, and that the big picture helps you to stop looking at the little corner that is off focus.

My first wild steelhead, only months after completing our journey.

Being Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I want to share our story, with the hopes that it will give people some respite and hope as they or someone they love battles cancer.

The day we found out that my wife, Julie, had breast cancer I was hours away from leaving on a fall musky trip with 2 of my best buds.  Obviously, the trip was canceled, and it would be a long winter of pain and struggle as we battled through the stages of breast cancer treatment and the side effects.  My wife is an amazingly strong woman and persevered through it all.  Of course, it was one of the worst winters Chicago had in recent memory, but what I remember most are the first trips back into the great outdoors after going through this ordeal.

The horrendous winter, countless doctor visits, time in the chemo ward and a scary trip to the ER on Christmas eve had certainly taken a toll on us.  By the time spring had begun to show itself, we both needed some time back out in nature.  Some time to recenter ourselves.  We got out and flew our daughter's first kite and my great friend Bill and I made it up to the Driftless area in SW Wisconsin for the early season trout opener.  It was cold, the fishing wasn't easy, but just being outside, in a beautiful valley and a special spring creek that day is something I will never forget.  It re-energized me.  It helped me remember our place in the world.  Being the primary caretaker of my wife and our then 2-year-old daughter I needed a little respite from the struggle, and it worked!  I came back reinvigorated and ready to help Julie tackle the last stages of her treatment.  Had I not had this trip, and a friend alongside me, I don't know how I would have endured and been able to keep caring for both of my girls as well as I could.

The end of my winter of struggle was kicked off by this SW Wisconsin Spring Creek Brown

I don't remember much of the last stages of treatment we went through together, but I do remember our first family camping trip after the end of her chemo treatments.  It was an impromptu trip to the Northwoods of Wisconsin.  Julie was sporting a fuzzy head, but her spirits were high and her strength was returning.  The weather was glorious, especially for the often unpredictable weather in Northwoods in May.  We had the time of our lives.

We felt like a family again.  We watched our daughter play on the beach of an idyllic Northwoods lake, watched her reel in her first smallmouth and we felt good.  It is hard to explain, but the moments you get like this after going through something of this nature are so sweet.  The fragility of life is so crystal clear that you really learn to appreciate every moment when things are good and everyone is healthy.

The day she was diagnosed I told myself that if we survived it, we had to make a change.  Julie and I had longed for a life somewhere where we could be part of nature as opposed to driving 4+ hours to visit it.  The traffic, the rat race, the industrial nature of Chicagoland had taken its toll on our souls.  Well, being the nuts that we are, we moved 2000 miles to the PNW a month after her treatments had ended.

Our post cancer mantra!

Soon after our move in, we decided that we should have our first camping trip on the beaches of the Oregon coast.  Again, I don't really remember all the stress of the move and the huge changes in our lives, but I will never forget seeing my daughter and my now healthy wife running and playing on the beach.  I have this photo as my phone wallpaper to remind of that day, and it will certainly be one that I will never forget.

Since our move 2 years ago we have fully embraced the beauty of the Columbia River Gorge and the Pacific Northwest as a whole.  The three of us have had more adventures in the last 2 years than in most of our lives. We have "sucked the marrow" from life through the great outdoors.  Julie has been lucky enough to be involved with great non-profit organizations that center around getting cancer survivors into the outdoors and into new experiences.  I would personally like to thank Send It, Athletes 4 Cancer, First Descents and Casting for Recovery for all the work they have done and the amazing experiences they have given to cancer survivors, including my wife. The last couple years have had  more scares, more surgeries, and continued treatment, but one step back into the great outdoors brings us back to sanity.  To me, and to Julie, this is the real cure.  Maybe someday we will find a physical cure for cancer, but in the meantime, go fishing, go hiking, go camping, go surfing, take some photos, run on the beach, but most of all, get outdoors!

The Bearded Pescador

1st Surf with Send It!

Here is a bit of a tribute to my wife, a survivor in the strongest sense, and a total badass!

1st Trout on the Fly!

1st Whitewater Kayak Adventure with First Descents!

Ryan Van Duzor
Gorge Fly Shop | Product Specialist

Read More from the "Bearded Pescador"

"Fly Fish the World with Us"


  1. Lovely story and am so glad your journey has brought you into our lives here in Stevenson and the Gorge!! =) <3

  2. Very well put and inspiring. Always here for you when you need it bud!

  3. Cure-ageous. So positive, so motivating, what perspective. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Amazing story and thank you for sharing. My wife has MS and I am her caretaker when not at work. I have found the getting out and away, for even two hours, here in the PNW clears my head and does in fact charge me up. Catching fish at this point is secondary to the actual experience of this beautiful place!


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