Courageous Warriors: Beauty from the Ashes is a collection of interviews with men and women who fought or are fighting breast cancer and who use their experience to contribute to others with similar diagnoses. Participants speak candidly about their lives as patients and survivors — what it was like to learn they had cancer, what it was like being treated. Caregivers discuss the emotional and physical toll on themselves and their families. It’s a holistic look at what cancer can do to someone and their entire social orbit. In being so thorough, so unsparing, Warriors is also able to look at what can come out of such a painful time in its subjects’ lives — organizations devoted to support, to kindness, to education about breast cancer and awareness of how to detect it early for treatment purposes.
The stories told here are as diverse as the men and women telling them. Breast cancer can afflict anyone at any age, regardless of general health or background — a physician who believed she was in the clear thanks to her conscientious lifestyle, a middle-aged man who happened to find a lump while playing with his grandson, a young expectant mother whose treatment choices had to take into account her pregnancy. These are all true stories and they’re all harrowing. So, too, are the stories of the caregivers who worked as hard as they could to help their loved ones battle their illness. The emphasis on the challenges faced by husbands, wives, children, parents, friends and partners who work tirelessly to help someone gives Warriors a broader and more empathetic focus than many documentaries that focus heavily on the disease itself.
This isn’t a film about breast cancer per se. It’s a film about the people who have faced it and how they moved forward once they were able. The final act goes into ways to provide care to those who may not have an active system of support. As one doctor notes, the United States healthcare system is very reactive — which means patients who don’t know what kind of care they need may not know what kind of care they should seek. Organizations now exist to help patients. Additionally, many men and women may not know the importance of annual mammograms to help detect cancer early. Early detection is key to chances of survival, and survivors of breast cancer have become key players in raising awareness. Alternative therapies are also covered here, such as Hope Held by a Horse, provides women, via horseback riding and outdoor activities, to grow and heal on their own terms and in an unconventional way.
Like many films, director Darla Rae discovered the story she was telling while making another, more focused documentary on mastectomy bras. In the process of conducting interviews, she realized there were more stories to be told and a large network of support groups that may not be known to those newly diagnosed. She was able to bring Dee Wallace, famous for her performance in E.T.: The Extra Terrestrial and other films, to narrate the journey. The result is a documentary that lets people know they’re not alone in their struggle, one that can hopefully connect them to someone in a similar situation or groups that can help them.