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Riverside Tappahannock Hospital Cancer Program helps patient through Reel Recovery

August 09, 2016

It's true, George Hazzard admits.

"Men have a hard time opening up about their feelings," said the nearly 75-year-old Northern Neck resident, also now a cancer survivor. "That's especially true when you're talking about cancer. You mention cancer and people will shy away from it. Some men don't even open up about it with their families."

He didn't really talk about it two years ago when diagnosed with chronic lymphoma leukemia, yet was quietly ready to update his will.

But recently, thanks to Reel Recovery, Hazzard had a chance to, with men, talk openly about his cancer. And he's ready to talk more.

Thanks to Riverside Tappahannock Hospital and its growing Cancer Program –which recently announced the addition of AnnMarie Simmons, BSN, RN, OCN, a Nurse Navigator for patients and their families –Hazzard was selected to participate in the Reel Recovery program.George Hazzard at Reel Recovery retreat

Reel Recovery was founded in 2003 by a group of avid fly-fishers, inspired by their fishing buddy's ongoing battle with brain cancer. Witnessing first-hand the beneficial impact fly-fishing provided their friend, they created Reel Recovery to provide the same opportunity for other men battling the disease. Combining expert fly-fishing instruction with directed "courageous conversations," the organization provides men with all forms of cancer a unique opportunity to share their stories, learn a new skill, form lasting friendships and gain renewed hope as they confront the challenges of cancer.

Esther Desimini, vice president and administrator of Riverside Tappahannock Hospital, also a cancer nursing specialist, knew about Reel Recovery before joining the Riverside Tappahannock family and brought it to the Tappahannock Cancer Program this year.

Reel Recovery asked Riverside Tappahannock to select a male cancer patient to attend a session earlier this year "and they picked me," Hazzard said, grateful for the experience.

"What I have is a cancer that is the best kind you can have," Hazzard said of his chronic lymphoma leukemia. "You die with it, not from it, and it's very treatable."

That's not to say it's been easy. 

"The treatment at Riverside has been the best," Hazzard said, who receives his chemotherapy treatments at RTH's Infusion Center. While he has other doctors in Richmond, he chose to go to RTH because it was closer and, as he learned firsthand, "it was the best choice. They have the best nurses anywhere."

And they also exposed him to Reel Recovery. 

"I was honored to be able to send Mr. Hazzard to the Reel Recovery retreat, said Rebecca Beasley, BSN, RN, CRNI, Nurse Manager of the Infusion Center at RTH.

"It offered him the opportunity to interact with other cancer survivors, which helped to alleviate the physical and emotional stress that comes with a cancer diagnosis. I look forward to sending more patients in the future," she added.

Hazzard, who lives near the Rappahannock River, enjoys fishing, but had never fly-fished. On the retreat, he was paired with what the program calls a Cancer Buddy who is well versed in fly-fishing and donates their time to teach the survivors.

The three-day retreat Hazzard attended was held at Graves Mountain Lodge.

The biggest benefit of participating in the program, he said, "was making 11 new friends. We're planning a reunion in a year or so and working to keep in touch."

Through those 11 new friends, Hazzard added, he learned just "how lucky I am" to have the type of support network he does.

In between fishing, during the Reel Recovery meetings and talking sessions where men opened up about their experiences, Hazzard told the group "that other than my family, my main support group is the infusion team at Riverside.

"Patients typically spend six months to a year with us during treatment, so they become like family to us. We know how they're feeling, not just physically but emotionally, and we're privileged to be there for them, to provide any comfort they need," Beasley said.

George Hazzard couldn't agree more. "They are without a doubt the best."

For more information about Riverside Tappahannock Hospital's Cancer Services, please contact AnnMarie Simmons, Cancer Nurse Navigator at 804-443-6203.