Cancer touches the lives of so many people. Whether you've received a diagnosis or know someone who has, we can all agree that it changes lives forever. From the initial diagnosis and treatments to the final moments, there are so many challenges, special moments, and inspirations along the way.
Many people turn to a variety of coping mechanisms, whether it be books about death, podcasts, support groups, or even documentaries. Everybody needs a bit of hope sometimes, and all of these resources can certainly provide that.
Here, we've compiled a list of 11 inspiring cancer documentaries. They each provide something a little different, but they all tell a story that is worth hearing. Perhaps one of them will help you through an especially difficult time in your life.
1. The Long Goodbye: The Kara Tippets Story
This moving documentary stirs feelings of compassion, resilience, and peace. Kara Tippets opened up her life and eventual death to viewers so they may understand her struggles and journey with a breast cancer diagnosis that changed everything.
Kara was a woman's woman who is the mother we see in our friends and even ourselves. Her story is not uncommon but remarkable in the sense that even in the end, she wanted nothing more than to uplift and inspire everybody that she knew. This documentary is perfect for anybody who has ever faced suffering or loss.
2. Crazy Sexy Cancer
Kris Carr, a successful actress and photographer, documents her journey to find a cure after her diagnosis. Doctors diagnosed Carr with a rare vascular cancer that only impacts .01% of the cancer population.
The documentary is presented as personal videos created by Carr, where she documents everything from diagnosis to what it looks like to live with cancer. Carr's optimistic approach to taking control of her health, forming a support system, and finding herself along the way is a truly inspirational approach to a devastating diagnosis.
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3. Mondays at Racine
If you're looking to another perspective of cancer, then Mondays at Racine is certainly worth your attention. This documentary is about two sisters who own a hair salon in Long Island. On the third Monday of every month, the sisters open their shop to cancer patients free of charge.
The patients are offered a variety of services, including manicures, pedicures, lash extensions, and much more. Through this small gesture, patients find a little comfort and create a strong support network.
The sisters decided to do this after they watched their mother struggle with her self-esteem as cancer took a toll on her appearance. They wanted to give women an opportunity to feel good about themselves and have a safe space to build bonds with other women who are going through the same things.
4. Jim Allison: Breakthrough
So many of us have a personal connection to cancer either through our own diagnosis or the diagnosis of someone we know and love. When scientist Jim Allison's mother became ill with cancer, he made it his life's mission to find the cure.
This documentary takes a long, hard look at the research that's being conducted for the cure. While there have been some breakthroughs, there's certainly a long way to go. This particular documentary showcases just how many people will spend their entire career and lives dedicated to finding more treatments and, ultimately, the cure for this disease that takes too many people far too soon.
5. Be Here Now
Cancer doesn't discriminate. This documentary follows the journey of Andy Whitfield, a successful actor who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma while starring in a hit series, "Spartacus: Blood and Sand.” He was at the height of his career, in a loving relationship, and by most accounts, he had it all. However, a single diagnosis changed everything.
"Be Here Now" chronicles his diagnosis, but also the loving relationship he shares with his wife. Together, they search for a way to heal Andy while also inspiring others to keep giving it everything they've got. This intimate look at hope and love is something that should be watched by the masses.
6. Thank You For Playing
Coping with a diagnosis is certainly one of the most difficult parts of the process—this can be especially true when it comes to parents who have a sick child. For one father, video games seemed to be the answer to help him and his wife cope, but also celebrate their dying son.
He decided to develop a video game called "That Dragon, Cancer" as a way to tell the story of how he and his wife were raising their son who had been diagnosed. This unique and inspiring story is something that everybody should see.
The documentary intends to showcase how two parents cope with celebrating their child while he's alive and also preparing for his death. This creative and deeply personal perspective is not only moving but provides some comfort to those who may be going through the same thing.
This powerful film takes viewers deep into the life of a woman who has not one, but two cancer diagnoses. While she's forced to face challenges and struggle she's never experienced before, her resounding message to the world is to seize the moment and live for today. Viewers have an opportunity to watch as she manages the stress of her diagnosis while also falling in love.
Not only does this film highlight how unrelenting cancer can be, but it also shows just how unrelenting love can be, too. Cristina sets out to inspire others and presents her new love to show that the bond between two people can strengthen even in the worst of times.
If ever you needed a reminder about what it really means to live, just watch "Cristina.”
8. Southern Comfort
Southern Comfort depicts the story of a transgender man, Robert Eads. After being diagnosed with ovarian cancer, Eads struggles to find medical care. Not only does this story highlight unique challenges that some patients face, but it also sheds light on how "family" can be anything and anybody that you want it to be.
As the film chronicles Robert's final year, viewers see the development of new love and a new family as he creates the best life that he possibly can. While there are certainly many sad and sometimes devastating moments, the overwhelming feeling of this film is that we all need someone—and that someone can be anybody that you connect with.
Love isn't defined by gender, and family isn't defined by blood. This moving documentary is something that people can connect with and find glimmers of hope even during the darkest moments.
9. Dear Jack
Even with a cancer diagnosis, life still happens. "Dear Jack" chronicles a year in the life of vocalist, pianist, and songwriter of Something Corporate's Andrew MacMahon. Not only does he release an album and break up with his girlfriend, but now he has to battle a leukemia diagnosis.
This film takes an up-close and personal look at the diagnosis, treatments, and all the in-between of a cancer diagnosis. However, it also depicts how much regular life still happens along the way. This real-world look at cancer can be relatable to many people.
10. A Woman Like Me
When filmmaker Alex Sichel receives a devastating diagnosis, she does the only thing she can think of—she creates. As a way to cope with her illness and navigate life as she knows it, she created a fictional character based on herself.
This documentary touches on everything from marriage and parenting to faith, life, and death. This all-inclusive look shows not only how difficult life can be sometimes, but also just how truly beautiful it is, too. There is no subject off limits as Alex takes on her journey with her diagnosis and newfound definition of what it means to live and die.
11. The C Word
This film takes a look at two different perspectives. One is of French neuroscientist Dr. David Servan-Schreiber, and then that of director, Meghan L. O'Hara. Meghan comes from the position of being a cancer survivor, and Davis is backed by scientific data.
Together, they join forces to showcase how the lives we live can kill us. In a world where we are often told that “sometimes cancer just happens,” this film provides the perspective that perhaps we have more power than we think.
This informational look at cancer can offer some insight into why so many people are sick and what we may be able to do to protect ourselves from being diagnosed.
Different Perspectives on Cancer
Each of these stories is as unique as the people who created them. However, it is because the perspectives are so different that it casts the net wide enough that perhaps their stories will be relatable to those who need to hear it the most.
If you're looking for more, head over to our recommendations for the best cancer movies and the best sad cancer movies.