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Poland 1985 graduate speaks to students about cancer recovery during Trout in the Classroom program

Aug. 12, 2019

Fourth-graders posing with Lisa Abel and Gary Bartell

Poland 1985 graduate Lisa Abel and Trout in the Classroom presenter Gary Bartell pose for a photo on May 7 with Poland fourth-graders in teacher Tracy Graulich’s class. Abel visiting to talk to students about her experience rehabilitating from breast cancer through the Casting for Recovery program. View more photos at

POLAND – The annual Trout in the Classroom experience for Poland Central School District students took on extra meaning this past school year, when Poland 1985 graduate Lisa Abel visited to tell students how a program called Casting for Recovery has helped her rehabilitate from breast cancer.

Abel was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer and later was selected to participate in a Casting for Recovery retreat in 2017. Casting for Recovery helps women diagnosed with breast cancer get through their struggles and teaches them how to fly fish, which uses a casting motion that aids in the recovery process. Abel is now a speaker for Casting for Recovery and travels around to tell others about the program.

“My audience learns you can take a negative circumstance such as breast cancer and turn it around to something positive such as my advocacy for the Casting for Recovery program,” she said. “If I can impact just one person during my presentation, then I feel I've done my job. My visit to Poland was special, as I'm a graduate of PCS, and I was really excited to be back at my alma mater.”

Abel spoke to students in Poland fourth-grade teacher Tracy Graulich’s classroom on May 7, when Trout in the Classroom presenter Gary Bartell visited to teach students how to identify insets that trout eat. Bartell returned on May 24 to help fourth-graders find and identify insects in the Cold Brook stream behind the school and again on June 4 to assist them with releasing trout into the stream.

Mohawk Valley Trout Unlimited puts on the Trout in the Classroom program for about 40 local schools including Poland. Students go through the whole process of raising the trout from eggs to fingerlings and then releasing them into streams.

‘My mission’

Abel said Casting for Recovery and the retreat she attended changed her life.

“When I applied to the retreat in 2017, I did so with the intention of finding a way to live beyond my stage 3 cancer diagnosis and also wanted the opportunity to learn how to fly fish,” Abel said. “When I was notified I'd been selected for the 2017 retreat, I was more than excited, but I had no idea how this organization would impact me long-term. Casting for Recovery put me in an environment with other breast cancer survivors who provided me hope to live a long, healthy life.”

Abel said she loves the sport of fly fishing, but catching a fish is a bonus to her.

“What I enjoy the most is being in the outdoors, the friendships which have been created as a result of my retreat experience and the volunteer activities related to Casting for Recovery,” she said. “I'm giving back to those who gave to me. I've found my passion not only for fly fishing but for helping other women affected by breast cancer, and I want those women to understand you can be a survivor and a thriver after their diagnosis – I'm proof of that thanks to Casting for Recovery.”

Abel likes to share her story with students such as those she visited at Poland.

“The topic of cancer is a sensitive subject, and many people shy away from discussing it,” she said. “My mission is about the education of a great non-profit program that helped me heal after a severe illness, and I do that through sharing my personal journey.”

Abel said the truth is that cancer is scary and affects so many families. Statistically, one of eight women will be affected by breast cancer in their lifetime, she said.

“I have the privilege of representing Casting for Recovery through my volunteer activities, and by sharing my journey, I feel I'm a positive role model,” she said. “It's been a long road but I hope the students understand that a person’s mindset has a huge impact on your well-being.”

The Casting for Recovery program places women in a natural setting to help them recover beyond the diagnosis and treatment of breast cancer, Abel said.

“I use my personal adventures and experience to shed light on the importance of spending time outdoors and how our natural environment can be a positive healing space,” she said.

Trout release

After the May 7 visited from Abel and Bartell, Poland fourth-graders continued raising the trout. When Bartell returned on May 24, students went into the Cold Brook stream to have an “insect investigation” to make sure the stream is healthy for trout. Bartell aided in educating the students on the types of insects – aquatic, as well as terrestrial – that the students could bring back to the tank to feed the trout in their classroom.

On June 4, students were able to release trout they had been raising since receiving them as eggs in November. Students released trout with partners thanks to help from parents and high-school students Logan Cookinham, Shelby Rommel, and Ava Malin, former students of Graulich who return each year to help with the release.

“It's really nice to see the students have a love of nature and help out with conservation of the environment around them,” Graulich said.

Bartell also appreciated the experience.

“Each year, when I return to Poland school, I enjoy the students and how they are respectful and knowledgeable about the environment and these trout,” Bartell said.

Graulich said she hears many of the students refer to the trout release as the “best day ever,” and all in all, she would have to agree with them.

“I look at this day as a day without classroom walls,” Graulich said. “The students get hands-on experiences that will stay with them for a lifetime.”

Lisa Abel talking in front of Poland fourth-graders

Poland 1985 graduate Lisa Abel speaks on May 7 to Poland fourth-graders in teacher Tracy Graulich’s class about Abel’s experience rehabilitating from breast cancer through the Casting for Recovery program. View more photos at

Students and others standing by stream before releasing trout

Poland fourth-graders prepare to release trout on June 4 into the Cold Brook stream behind the school as part of the Trout in the Classroom program. View more photos at