What follows is an interview given by David Emmanuel Noel (Arts and Entertainment) for Occhi Magazine (https://occhimagazine.com/) on March 10, 2020.
A Brave Hope is premiering at the FirstGlance Film Festival, LA on March 15th. This is an inspirational story about an ordinary person overcoming extraordinary circumstances, relying on faith, hope, and love. Rebekah Hughes learned to find joy and purpose despite the pain caused by the family turmoil of divorce, domestic violence, mental illness, addiction, abandonment, and death.
Rebekah was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer at the age of 23. After a yearlong battle, she had defeated cancer. At 27, she got married, and eight months into her new marriage, her dreams were crushed when she was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer and given just months to live. However, Rebekah wouldn’t accept the prognosis. She chose to fight; she chose to live. The film is the remarkable story of a couple whose choice of life and love, faith and hope, helped them conquer the seemingly impossible.
Raw and real, heartbreaking and humorous, this documentary will inspire you to believe that no matter what you’re facing, there is always hope. Ahead of the premiere, we were fortunate to speak with Joel Hughes, Rebekah’s husband, about the film and the Rebekah’s Hope initiative.
Joel, thank you very much for taking the time to speak to us about the film and your journey. It is a moving and inspirational story that instills hope for many I’m sure.
David: How is Rebekah?
Joel: Given her diagnosis of stage 4 breast cancer, she is doing remarkably well. Initially, she had so much cancer that one oncologist gave her 4-6 months to live. That was over five years ago now! The City of Hope cancer treatment center, Duarte, CA, has beaten back most of her cancer. But because she has stage 4 cancer, she is on chemotherapy for the rest of her life. This means that she’s been doing chemo consistently for the last five years. It takes a toll on the body as you can imagine. But the beautiful and inspiring thing about Rebekah is that she rarely ever complains and never uses her struggles to play the victim.
David: When did you decide to document Rebekah’s journey on film?
Joel: I decided to document Rebekah’s journey on film about a year into her diagnosis. We were attending a large church here in Orange County and every Sunday, before service, they would play these little 2-3 minute testimony videos on the big screens. They were so well done that I thought Rebekah’s story needs to be told like that. She has such a sweet spirit and such a powerful faith in light of such a devastating situation, that I wanted to capture it on film to show the world that no matter what you are facing, there is always hope. I wanted to show the world that with faith, hope, and love, any ordinary person can learn to rise above extraordinary circumstances and truly live a story that can change the world.
I had to then track down and find this filmmaker doing these little testimonial videos. It turned out to be Benjamin Ironside Koppin or just Ben. When I finally tracked him down, he was no longer working for the church but was then working for L'Oreal makeup doing commercials for their Urban Decay line.
We first talked via email, then phone, and then we met for lunch. Each time we hit it off and the more I shared my vision, the more Ben saw it. Initially, I only envisioned a 10-15 minute video that I could put on places like Facebook. But after the first interview filmed, which lasted nearly three hours, we were all in tears and we realized we had something really special. Her story deserved to be told as a feature film.
From there I started working all the time on the outline, structure, and flow of the story. Nothing is scripted in the film, but obviously, we can’t include everything. We had to figure out where the story is going and how to bring it to a conclusion. The story has a lot of heaviness to it so we consciously worked to bring in points of levity and humor. But one thing we all agreed on was that we did not want to make a cheesy Christian movie that felt fake or that wrapped up with a nice little bow that says all is well, life is peachy, and we live happily-ever-after. We wanted to capture life as it is, the good, the bad, and at times, the ugly. The movie sort of ends open-ended because that’s just how life is.
David: You met each other via a Bible Study group. How much of a role has your faith played in approaching life and its challenges?
Joel: We met each other on an online Christian Meetup site for singles. We were already both committed Christians who had both been through significant trials by the time we met. It had been three years since Rebekah’s first diagnosis with cancer and it had been three years since I went through a crushing divorce.
By the time we met, our faith was both tested and central to our lives. We both admit that had we not previously gone through the fire, we probably wouldn’t be right for each other. But the trials matured us and formed us into different people and by the time we met, we both had a deeply shared gratitude for God and life.
Rebekah freely admits that without her faith in God, her Father, she probably wouldn’t be here today. I often joke that I’d probably be in prison! Tragedies like cancer help you really prioritize life. In the last six years of marriage, we’ve probably had five fights. It’s just not worth it. We have a lot of mercy on each other for weaknesses. We’ve learned that tragedies like cancer come with hidden blessings, things that you would never have discovered had the tragedy not occurred. The mercy and love we share is one example. We have a closeness that I don’t think we would have apart from the struggles we face.
David: You’ve investigated remedies and treatments over the years. How much research is readily available for treating cancers?
Joel: There is a TON of information available on cancer and treatments. But a lot of it is not so good, some even dangerous or just stupid. I have a background in philosophy, so I’m critical of claims unless they’re backed by scientific proof and data, not just anecdotal stories, which is what you find on the internet a lot. Sure, eating some seeds from some fruit in Central America may contain cancer-killing properties, but we don’t know that yet. And there are hundreds of such “cures” out there on the internet.
The other thing most people don’t realize when they talk about some newly discovered cure for cancer is that there’s not just one kind of cancer; there are over 100 types of cancers, each with their own unique issues, needs, and treatments. For example, Rebekah’s cancer metastasized (or spread) to her brain, but she doesn’t have brain cancer. She has breast cancer. It’s unlikely that we will discover the one silver bullet that will kill all cancers anytime soon.
So we try to go with what we (i.e. society and the world) do know work as effective treatments. Traditional treatments are proven to be the most effective means of defeating cancer. They’re not perfect and do come with side-effects, but they also have a proven (i.e. documented) track record of success. These include chemotherapy, radiation, surgery, immune therapy, and medication. Rebekah also recently tried a clinical trial injecting CAR-T cells into her brain, which unfortunately did not work.
David: Please tell us more about Rebekah’s Hope initiative.
Joel: Along with the documentary, we started a company called Rebekah’s Hope. Rebekah’s Hope exists to help those fighting cancer, illness, and despair, find hope and healing through our writings, videos, and e-courses. That’s our tagline.
We’ve learned that the greatest battle with cancer, and really any issue of life, is not so much the side effects from chemo but rather the fear that tries to take over your heart and mind. The main battle is in the heart. Hope—real hope—is the most powerful weapon we can use to fight this and even learn to rise above our suffering.
In various ways, Rebekah and I have lived through heartbreak, disappointment, failure, addiction, divorce, abuse, mental illness, and now cancer. We both know fear and despair intimately. But we have a Mighty Hope, a Living Hope, and we have (and are) learning to persevere and rise above our trials through insights and hope that comes only from God. We want to help other strugglers learn how they can become the heroes of their stories.
You’re the author of ‘In Your Corner’ and ‘Help! Someone I love has cancer.’
David: Please tell us more about the books you’ve written.
Joel: One of the ways we want to help people find hope is through our writings. The first book I wrote is titled HELP! Someone I Love Has Cancer: How You Can Really Make a Difference. The reason I wrote this is because when Rebekah was re-diagnosed just eight months into our marriage, I didn’t even know what cancer was. I didn’t know what to say. Most people are in the same boat. What we also found was that a lot of people come forth and offer what they think is the cure to cancer. These can be family, friends, and just some folk out of the woodworks. They mean well, but often they cause more hurt and damage than they do good. I tell a lot of stories in the book about these “well-intentioned dragons” as I call them. I then explain how you can become a “cancer angel” and really make a difference. You can buy the book in Kindle, paperback, and audio on Amazon but I also offer a free digital copy to anyone who wants it at http://www.cancercaretakerbook.com/
My second book, closer to my heart, is titled In Your Corner: A Caregiver’s Survival Guide to Life, Love, Cancer, and Hope. At some point in our marriage, I realized that I started thinking of myself as both a husband and a caregiver. Caring for someone with a serious illness or impairment comes with its own new and unique challenges, stresses, emotions, and temptations. The comment I get the most about this book from readers is how much they appreciate my vulnerability in sharing our lives and my heart. In this book, I aim to help fellow caregivers find the tools needed to take care of themselves and their loved ones. You can learn more here: http://www.inyourcornerbook.com/
I have a new book with my editor now titled EPIC Hope. This book is written for anyone who needs to find new or fresh hope. It goes beyond cancer to anyone facing despair. I know cause I’ve been there! And I’m just finishing my fourth book titled Why Does God Allow Things Like Cancer? Rebekah too is working on a book titled Clothed With Strength: Finding Hope and Meaning in Light of Loss and Tragedy. We’re also releasing soon e-courses on writing and book creation.
David: Where can our readers find out more about you and the Rebekah’s Hope initiative?
Joel: To learn more about Rebekah’s Hope and all our Hope Resources, including our film, A Brave Hope, you can visit https://www.rebekahshope.org/ Our website tells more about our story and it has a page about our movie along with a behind the scenes page showing how we made the movie each step of the way.
And be sure to drop by and join the journey on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/Heisstillgood/
David: We wish you the very best with the film!