Courageous Warriors (Photos: Film It Productions)

★★★ (out of four)
STARS Darla Rae, Karen Richards

For a film about breast cancer, Courageous Warriors: Beauty from the Ashes can be quite uplifting.

To be sure, the tragic dimensions of the disease are felt in every frame of this new documentary from writer-director-producer Darla Rae. But they don’t define the film, which is ultimately about strength, survival, and moving into the future with a renewed purpose.

Courageous Warriors, which is narrated and executive-produced by actress Dee Wallace (the mom in E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial, the TV newswoman in The Howling), allows not only the survivors to tell their stories but also spends a notable amount of time on the caretakers as well.

One of the individuals we meet is Karen Richards, who notes that she’s both a breast cancer survivor and a rape survivor. She was diagnosed with multiple tumors in her right breast at the age of 41, and, rather than wait for the lumps in her left breast to become life-threatening and force her to go through the process again, she opted to receive a double mastectomy.

Another talking head is Denver radio personality Murphy Huston, who’s a survivor and a caregiver. Huston, who had looked after his wife while she dealt with breast cancer back in the late 1980s, was shocked in later years when he discovered that he also had it. (Yes, men can also develop breast cancer, a point hammered home by Huston over the course of the film.)

Courageous Warriors

A significant portion of the film is focused on organizations that were created to assist women in their arduous journey through trying times. One is Hope Held by a Horse, which uses our equine friends as a means of solidarity and support. Another is Personal Ink (P.Ink), based on the absolutely brilliant idea of covering a survivor’s post-surgery breasts with elaborate tattoos.

What perhaps makes Courageous Warriors different from other docs of this nature is the ample attention given to the caregivers. Many of those interviewed speak of the loneliness of the individuals who are providing for their wives (or mothers, or friends), and the importance of a support network — whether neighbors or a Bible study group or anything that breaks the isolation — is emphasized. And rightfully receiving harsh words are those who abandon their responsibilities.

“People who leave their spouses are just cowards,” states Rae, who also appears in front of the camera since her mother (long deceased) had breast cancer. “I’ve heard from young women, old women, that their spouses left them, even while they were still in the hospital.”

One of the featured husbands agrees. “That pisses me off. That’s a man who has no honor.” Such a selfish attitude infuriates him, since he remains deeply in love with his wife.

“I didn’t marry her for her breasts. I married her for her heart.”

(Courageous Warriors: Beauty from the Ashes will be available for streaming through Amazon, Roku, and other services beginning in April 2022.)

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