Fishing Helps Teen in Cancer Fight

Nettens opportunity for a "Make-A-Wish" trip included a fishing trip to Canada. Photo provided.
Zach Netten relied on fishing videos to help keep a positive attitude during numerous cancer treatments. Photo provided
Zach Netten relied on fishing videos to help keep a positive attitude during numerous cancer treatments.
Photo provided

Fishing is one of the most accessible of outdoor sports. Anyone, regardless of age, income level or fitness ability can easily participate.

More than 55 million people go fishing every year, some professionally, but the majority cast a line purely for the love of the water. But what few think about is the fact that fishing can also provide therapeutic benefits and no one knows this better than Zach Netten.

Zach has been an avid angler for as long as he can remember.  During the summer, he and his father Dave Netten take to the lake every chance they get whether fishing, talking or simply to enjoy the water.

Fishing is a huge part of Zach’s life – and has been for his entire 17 years of age. But fishing has also given him so much more than reeling in fish.

During the first semester of his freshman year of high-school doctors told Zach he had Stage 4 cancer. “It came down to a chest x-ray that showed he had a mass in his chest area,” said Zach’s father Dave. “You find out your son is being admitted to the hematology and oncology floor and the cancer thing sets in hard.”

“With cancer it seems you always hear of other people’s stories,” said Zach, “I never thought it would actually  happen to me but when it hits close to home, you know it can happen to anybody.”

Hours and days of chemotherapy and radiation took its toll on Zach’s young body, but even though he couldn’t get out on the water, it was fishing that kept his mind off of the disease.  And while he was fighting to stay alive in a Minnesota hospital, in Zach’s mind he was fighting a huge northern pike in a pristine Wisconsin lake or picturing a largemouth bass leaping airborne trying to shake a hook.  During sessions of chemotherapy, as the medicine dripped into his frail body, Zach sought comfort in watching hours upon hours of fishing videos on YouTube.

“I’m a big believer in having a positive attitude,” Zach said. “If you have a positive attitude you will have a positive outcome.”

Last September, Zach had the opportunity for a Make-A-Wish trip – a chance to go anywhere in the world or meet anyone he wanted to. To no one’s surprise he chose a fishing trip, but not to Florida, the Bahamas or some other remote destination, as you might think.  Zach’s “dream” trip took him north of the border.

“I had the opportunity to go anywhere in the world but I chose to go to Canada,” said Zach. While on the lake he braved wind and 35 degree weather to go fishing and he couldn’t have been happier.  “Just the thrill of the tug on the line and catching fish was awesome,” he added. “I would do it every day for as long as I can,” he added

These days, Zach is in remission and while the cancer could return, his doctors are cautiously optimistic that the worst is behind him. Radiation and chemotherapy have left Zach’s joints sore and weak – one of many lingering effects of the treatment, but his attitude and love of fishing is now stronger than ever.

“You wish for your kid to do something they love to do and that’s what I wish for Zach,” said his father. “I hope it (fishing) gets to be a part of his life in a major way for the rest of his life.”

There is a lot to be said about therapeutic recreation to help those with illnesses, disease or disabilities. Zach’s love of fishing provided a natural path towards his rehabilitation. Hopefully he will have the opportunity to enjoy his favorite pastime for many years to come.

John Martino
Martino is a well-known outdoor writer throughout Indiana and has served as longtime outdoor columnist for the Kokomo Tribune newspaper. Martino has won numerous awards for both his writing and his service to youth, conservation and the community. He recently retired as Superintendent of Parks and Recreation for the City of Kokomo and now works as Ivy Tech Executive Director for Facilities for the Kokomo region.


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