Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Full Circle: Seven Week Summer, Part 2

I am reading a very interesting, well-written novel based on a true story, “Full Circle” by April Conrad. I bought it at the Great Waters Fly Fishing Expo this past spring, and yet, I am only partway through it. Not because of its length or disinterest, but because parts of it are really difficult for me. You see, Full Circle is about a fly fisherman who has Stage 4 non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma… for the second time. Six years ago this month, my wife Ellen was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. We were very fortunate because it was caught early. But from that moment where she got off the phone with her doctor, came down the hall, and told her brother (who was visiting us at the time, and had lost his wife to breast cancer) and I, “Well, I have cancer,” everything in our world changed, just as it did for Dean, the main character in Full Circle.

Cancer is insidious. There probably isn’t an adult in this country whose life hasn’t been affected by cancer in some way, shape, or form. Ellen’s mother died of lymphoma. Her oldest brother went through chemo and radiation for lymphoma two times. That was the reality that was staring us in the face when we met the oncologist for the first time. But as I said, we were fortunate, blessed. Everyone in our church was praying for her. Our best friends, elders in our former church, and their son-in-law pastor, were praying for us. In a chance encounter at a public event in Duluth, we ran into some old friends from the first church we belonged to in Minnesota who were stalwart and faithful prayer warriors, and right there in Canal Park, they prayed for Ellen. I don’t care what you believe or don’t believe. I know what I believe, and I know what Ellen believes. Prayer works. Six months after beginning chemotherapy, Ellen was declared in remission. Now, five and a half years after that, she remains cancer free.

Several years ago, when the National Trout Center was still in operation in Preston, Minnesota, they offered an “Intro to Fly Fishing” class. Ellen and our oldest daughter had taken part in a “How to Cast” session at Great Waters earlier in the year. She had been commenting on how she thought flyfishing might be an effective way to put chemo and cancer behind her, so we traveled down to Preston, and in the course of an afternoon Ellen was “hooked.” She used my first fly rod, which I received as a gift when I graduated from high school, that weekend. Shortly after that, we went to Cabela’s and I got her a fly rod and reel of her own. The following Mother’s Day added waders, wading boots, a net, and a fishing vest. Yet, although she confessed to enjoying the stress-reducing relaxation that flyfishing produced, she considered herself more of a photographer than an angler. However, that may have changed at least a bit on Father’s Day weekend of this year. For a Father’s Day present, knowing that I would be undergoing reconstructive foot surgery in July, Ellen arranged for a guided fishing trip with Carl Hansel of Namebini Guide Service on the Bois Brule River in northwest Wisconsin. She caught trout, I caught trout, we fished from a canoe (and renewed our love of canoeing that had been dormant since we moved to Minnesota). We ran rapids in the dark and had a thoroughly enjoyable time. It was so good that we have already rented a cabin and started making arrangements for another trip, this time in the Minnesota Arrowhead for next spring.

I think that either flyfishing has moved up, or photography has moved down a bit in Ellen’s priorities. So much so, that on the last weekend before my surgery, we took a “pre-surgery, self-isolation fishing trip” to Carlton County where Ellen grew up, and I don’t think she ever took her camera out of its case. What pictures we took, we took with our phones. We fished the Moose Horn River that Ellen used to wade in as a child and Bob Lake where she learned to swim. We caught some fish, not a lot, but we each got a few. More importantly, it was a wonderful time we got to spend together as husband and wife, as anglers, as best friends, and realizing what a blessing of God that we have been given in being together, just like Dean and his wife in “Full Circle.”