Trauma has a way to change a person’s life perspective. It can come from a lot of things. For John and I, losing loved ones to suicide did it. Katie Cahn had a different experience altogether with equally lasting impacts. For her, just like for us, nature and happiness were centerstage of her post-trauma life.
She had no clue of what fly fishing would do for her when she was offered a rod eight years ago. In fact, she barely used it at first. Only when she started going to college at Western Carolina University did she find a use for it. The area offered little whitewater kayaking nearby and with school, she did not have time to drive around for her favourite activity, but the Tuckasegee River flowed 50 yards from her front door. She picked up her gift, watched a few YouTube videos and taught herself how to cast.
“Once I caught my first big fish, then I knew I could do this. It was pretty awesome. I was in the middle of nowhere. It was fall, just beautiful. It was cold, loved it. And, I was the only person out there.”
She got the basics figured out but still had so much to learn. From there, she started going to the main channel of the river where most of the anglers went where she received some precious advice.
“I was breaking off left and right. You have to play the fish. I was just trying to get it into the net and when you try to do that, you only have a tiny line to bring it in so I would just break off. You can’t fight them. I didn’t know that. Some day, someone told me – You know you should really let them fight a little more.”
Through her college years and after, Katie kept her rod busy. She loved the peace and quiet it brought to her life. Little did she know how much she would need it. Years into her teaching career, she found herself dissatisfied with her work, but felt like the bad parts were a necessary evil. After all, she needed the pay, the job stability, the health insurance and the pension. It would be silly to walk away from that only because the bureaucracy, computer work and ton of paperwork were killing her inside. And she really loved the kids although she didn’t feel like her job was about teaching them. When she needed a change, life forced her to make one.
“I got married, three weeks later, I was diagnosed with kidney cancer and then 9 weeks after that, I had to go for another major surgery for another tumour that was benign. The whole time that I was in the hospital recovering, it didn’t rain at all. It didn’t rain in three months. It was the perfect time for me to be off the river. I didn’t get a chance to get jealous thinking that it was raining a bunch, that the rivers were flowing and the fishes were so happy. No, the fishes were feeling like me so that made me feel better.”
When the reality sets in and you realize you may die tomorrow, you see life differently. First, you are afraid because you may vey well die. Every CT scan report, every blood test results is a reminder that you are not controlling the outcome. You are scared because you’re not ready to die. You are scared because you feel you still have so many reasons to live.
“After the diagnosis, I went through a pretty bad depression. I didn’t know if I was going to be alive in a year. It was rough for me because my husband and I had just gotten married, it was supposed to be the happiest time of my life. I was so scared. I decided I couldn’t let cancer control my life. It was time for me to fight back. Somebody told me something that stuck with me. It was time to be a warrior, not a worrier.”
Katie changed her outlook on life. From her hospital bed, all she wanted to do was go fishing and so six days after her second surgery where she got her appendix and ovary removed, she was on the water with a rod in her hands.
“I remember catching my first fish after and it was better than any fish I had ever caught. That day, it wasn’t about that fish, it was about me. It brought tears to my eyes and to my husband’s. I thought that I had been fishing all these years with cancer and for the first time, I was fishing cancer free. I knew from that moment on I would live my life differently, and I have.”
Katie didn’t go back to teaching full time. She was determined not to do anything that she hated anymore. She wanted to focus on things that brought her happiness. When she was approached to become a fishing guide, she jumped on the opportunity to do something fun for a living.
“I’ve only been a guide for six months and I know I still have ton of things to learn but it’s part of the fun. With the diagnosis, I learned that I can do anything and if I can’t, at least I tried. I’m not failing. I appreciate everybody that’s been supportive on my social media account. I’d like to think that my followers feel like they can overcome hardship, that bad things happen in life but we still go out there and we still charge.”
Charging through life, because she’s not ready to die, because everyday on the water she witnesses nature’s beauty. Life’s colours seem more vibrant when you thought you might have just seen your last sunset, but it’s just a matter of perspective. Go find your reason to live life to the fullest, because the future is promised to no one.