Be Well. Fish On 

I recently experienced a life-changing retreat near the banks of the Brazos River.  It coincided with the first “real” day (aka cool) of fall in Texas. It was beautiful in every sense of the word.

The retreat catered to the needs of the 10 men living with cancer (ages 31-80). There were 20+ volunteers, many were survivors, had a passion for fly-fishing and all were dedicated to serving others.  These volunteers included Chef Sue (prepared meals that were modified to meet my dietary restrictions) and Fishing Buddy Brian Loria (sharing his passion for the sport and teaching me how to fly-fish, all while showing incredible patience).

The “hook” to get me to the retreat was the opportunity to learn how to fly-fish, something I had never done before. It was an activity that would take me out of my comfort zone.

I was skeptical about the other portion of the retreat, the “courageous conversations.” It was not the reason I signed up for Reel Recovery!  “Talking together about cancer and its life impact?” No way!

“Courageous conversations” was an eye-opening and powerful experience. The 10 participants ensured the quality of instruction and created a powerful small group dynamic, led by the skillful facilitator, Martin Deschner, Ph.D. (UT Southwestern Department of Psychiatry).  Over the course of 2.5 days, we became brothers (“reluctant brotherhood”), sharing our inner most thoughts. The emotions flowed, including many tears.  I’ve never been so open with my feelings.  I shared thoughts with this group of men that I had never shared before; it was empowering!  I learned that regardless of the type of cancer, we all shared the same emotions, including fear and hope.

Cancer is referred to as the “c” word. The other “c” word is courageous. It takes courage to talk about it, especially for men and with people you just met. Not only were the “courageous conversations” so empowering, but they were also cathartic.

I went to the retreat wanting to challenge myself and get out of my comfort zone with something I had never done before, fly-fishing.  What I left with was something much more than a fun weekend, but a renewed sense of purpose and a band of brothers I will never forget.  What a courageous weekend!   Be Well. Fish On.

Reel Recovery ( a national non-profit organization that conducts free fly-fishing retreats for men recovering from all forms of cancer. Combining introductory instruction with directed “courageous conversations,” the organization offers a unique experience for men living with cancer, a time to share their stories; lean a new skill, form friendships, and gain renewed hope as they confront the challenges of their recovery.

Tom Hulsey ( is a survivor of 3 life-threatening illnesses and is passionate about utilizing his life experiences to fuel positive changes and impact the health of our world.

He is a research advocate at NCI-designated UT Southwestern and serves on the board at Mary Crowley Cancer Research.

Tom is a two-time author; detailing his journey, how mindset is key, and lessons learned.  All book sale proceeds are being donated to philanthropic organizations that are making a positive impact on humankind.

He is the recipient of the 2023 Jan Klodner Service Above Self Award for lifetime visionary service.


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