Simcha Esther (Shari) Gershan believed in living life joyously, no matter the challenges.

And stage 4 lung cancer was no exception.

After she was diagnosed in April 2008, the health-conscious, non-smoker was shocked. She concluded that there had to be reason she was chosen for this journey. So the 41-year-old mother of four embraced the illness as a gift whose lessons should be shared.

In a blog that became ever popular, she chronicled her various treatments as well as her fears and hopes for the future. She also encouraged people to undertake mitzvot and to reach out to others with love. The site has drawn 30,000 hits to date, with visitors from France, England and other countries around the globe reporting of the changes they made in their lives, and acts of kindness they’ve performed in her merit.

People were drawn to her contagious enthusiasm for lifePeople were drawn to her contagious enthusiasm for life, said her husband, Yoni Gershan. His wife aimed to “show people to celebrate in good times and in bad times,” he said. “Even in the darkest moments, she looked upwards.”

Her journey is documented in a powerful new film, “Time of My Life,” which recently premiered in New York City and will be released in select theaters in a few months. The feature length movie was a joint project created by Gershan and Israeli filmmaker Tsvika Tal, who formerly worked for A&E and the History Channel.

The title of the film was chosen with great care. It means now is the time, life is short, use every moment. But it also means to live life as a wonderful celebration, in spite of any tragic circumstances, explained Yoni Gershan.

That’s precisely what she did. A theater major at New York University, she became Torah observant after a year of study in Israel. She subsequently became renown for her gourmet cooking, so much so that she was featured in the magazine Bon Appetit for her multi-cultural food extravaganzas when she worked at the United Nations. When she became a mother and found that the local schools didn’t meet her children’s needs, she didn’t complain about it. Instead, she cofounded a Montessori-based Jewish school.

Friends say that she never lost her vitality, even after she was diagnosed with her illness. Doctors initially told her that she only had three months to live. Yet she survived for a year-and-a-half. She passed away on Yom Kippur, but not before describing her illness as an “amazing, awesome and holy journey.”

She takes viewers into her private life, following her to chemo sessions, carpool, discussions with family members and friendsThe documentary is not your typical tearjerker about terminal illness. It is a story of hope and transformation as viewers observe Gershan transform her life, community and the cancer experience through humor and optimism. Gershan began using her Hebrew name and made an effort to repair all of her relationships as part of her healing process. The community became involved in numerous projects in her merit. And her approach to cancer was unique as she turned chemotherapy appointments into parties and tried alternative approaches to medicine.

“This is not a sad, depressing journey dedicated to black on white,” she says at the beginning of the film, set against the backdrop of New York City. “This is a precious soul singing its song. No matter what a person goes through in life, no matter what the test is, it’s all a beautiful, colorful journey of singing our own personal songs, of fulfilling our missions in life. Embracing whatever G‑d brings our way with joy.”

She takes viewers into her private life, following her to chemo sessions, carpool, discussions with family members and friends, and meetings with alternative practitioners. One segment which drew hearty laughs from the audience was her appointment with a wigmaker, in which she tried on numerous wigs and made quips about them, including a blond number which made her look in the mirror and wince, “This makes me look like Rod Stewart!”

Tal, the founder of Tiferet Filmworks in Passaic, New Jersey, met Gershan fourteen months ago and was immediately intrigued by her story. “She was full of energy and very animated."

Tal became religious seven years ago, after working as a director in some very prestigious areas, including at A&E, PBS and The History Channel. Now much of his work is related to Israel and Judaism. "That's what I'm passionate about. You can tell the most amazing stories." Simcha Esther was among his most inspiring, he said. "She didn’t want to make a movie about her suffering. She wanted something to inspire people, that would give people who are suffering a tool to be able to deal with it better.”

Gershan was strengthened by the sense that G‑d was with her throughout her suffering, “holding my hand.” She wrote about the numerous "miracles" she experienced since her diagnosis. Despite her challenges, she succeeded in retaining a joyous perspective by focusing on prayer, Torah study and by working on her blog and documentary. The approach was extraordinary because, he said, “there’s a whole industry of sad films. But they do not explore the spiritual side of things. They don’t bring in the mental control a person has over a situation.”

Gershan made the most sober-faced physicians grin with her endearing anticsTal followed Gershan around with his camera nearly every day for fourteen months, keeping the camera rolling at Gershan’s demand even during her darkest, most painful moments. But most of the footage shows her facing her fears with humor and optimism.

Many scenes were filmed at Sloan Kettering Medical Center in New York, where physicians and patients are not accustomed to seeing cameras, particularly in the chemotherapy room, said Tal. Gershan made the most sober-faced physicians grin with her endearing antics and wise observations.

In one scene, as she prepares for chemotherapy, she and her husband banter about bald being beautiful, naming all the bald celebrities they could conjure. Gershan jokingly announces that she will ask her friends to shave their heads in solidarity with her. “They won’t care, they all cover their hair anyway,” she said.

Tal said the experience of making the film with Gershan changed him. “I learned so much from her,” he said.

“The message of the film is that we color our experiences the way we choose. She was a painter and she was going to paint the picture how she wanted it,” said Tal. “We have no control over what happens to us, but we can elevate our experience.”

He anticipates that the film will resonate with people suffering from cancer, and believes that it will help give them inspiration.

But the film also has a universal appeal, although it’s about a Jewish mother from Passaic dealing with cancer. “Anyone facing any kind of hardship needs to examine these same ideas. She gave people a different way of looking at their lives,” he said.

Her approach was very unique, he said. “I've never heard of any kind of film like this, that explores the spiritual side."

Whatever suffering she experienced, she always had G‑d in mindSadly, she became very sick at the end of the filming and although she saw a few scenes, she never was able to see the completed film before she died. "But I'm one hundred percent sure that this is what she wanted. This was her vision. She was very clear about it."

The film, he said, is about giving meaning to life. Although Simcha Esther heard the kind of news that would make other people shut down, she didn't. Whatever suffering she experienced, she always had G‑d in mind. She was a very unique, very spiritual person. Her legacy was that she gave people a different way of looking at life.