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  • Writer's pictureBrad Thiessen

Top 6 inspirational short cancer survivor films to watch online

Kathy Pico in the short film La Cumbra. Source: screen shot.

When I was in the middle of chemo wasteland and then later having my brain flooded with antibiotics for two six-week rounds, one of the best sources of encouragement was stories of survivors getting back on their feet—showing courage, overcoming their new limitations, and finding a new sense purpose.


Here are six short films that have meant the most to me, in alphabetical order. Watching the ones that are on requires setting up an account, but it’s free and easy.


1.       Ascend

Jon Wilson lost almost his entire leg to cancer as a young adult. He continues to ride his mountain bike—with one leg!—as a way of coping with life. *This film has won a fistful of awards and been shown in dozens of film festivals around the world.

2.       Empire and Eliza

The Empire Dragons are a powerful breast cancer survivor dragon boat racing team. As they train to compete in a high stakes international tournament, a very special friend and teammate fights her own battle off the water. *This was the audience favorite at the 2023 Outlive Film Festival

3.       La Cumbre

Kathy Pico, an Ecuadorian native, lost her leg to Cancer at age 38. Reassessing her life's value, Kathy turned to alpinism.

4.       Nicky Spinks – a Mountain Journal Short

Nicky Spinks is a world-class ultramarathon runner and breast cancer survivor. This video does not dig much into her cancer experience, but her spirit and realistic view of life’s challenges is an inspiration to dig deep and live well.

5.       Pet Therapy

Diana Roberts, a Zimbabwean-born animal advocate, shares the power of the human-dog connection as she nears the end of her life. I am personally impacted by this story, as Diana was an advocate for a conservation area and the Nordic ski park that have been huge parts of my outdoor experience.

6.       When I die: Lessons from the Death Zone

This is not exactly a pick-me-up, but it faces one of our ultimate concerns head-on. Philip Gould shares his thoughts and insights as he confronts his impending death from esophageal cancer and determines to die well.


7.       Pacing

I just had to include this one. It tells the story of how I was able to count on another runner as a pacer to keep me going when I was six months into recovery from my third cancer treatment.

How about you? What inspires you to forge on when you can’t figure out how to embrace your new reality?

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