Connie Johnson, the founder of the Love Your Sister cancer charity, has been remembered at a service at Melbourne’s St Paul’s Cathedral as a woman rose above a “downpour of horror” to inspire others.
Ms Johnson founded the charity to raise money and awareness around cancer, with her actor brother Samuel Johnson’s help.
The charity was launched in the aftermath of her terminal breast cancer diagnosis seven years ago. It began with her brother’s unicycle ride around Australia, which raised $1.75 million.
Since that time, the group has raised more than $7 million — but Johnson said the reach of Connie’s ambitions for Love Your Sister knew no bounds.
She died on September 8, leaving behind a husband Mike Johnson, two sons and a community of people determined to eradicate the disease.
Mr Johnson said he had known his wife for 18 years, half of which time she had battled the disease. He spoke of her courage in beating her second diagnosis.
“What we thought was a baby in her womb, turned out to be a tumour in her womb, we had to walk from maternity at the hospital down the corridor to oncology,” he said.
“It took a lot for Con to come back from that. So before she even started this journey with Love Your Sister, she’d already had to fight to come back from lows like that.”
Mr Johnson paid tribute to supporters of Love Your Sister for the “beacon of strength” they proved to be when she was diagnosed with the illness for a third and final time.
“To survive for Con, she had to rise above this pain and this sadness and this downpour of horror that was flooding and consuming,” he said.
“Connie had to look beyond her own cancer, beyond her own diagnosis, she became driven by this hope, an obsession, that by talking about and raising awareness she could maybe stop even one other family from having to go through the horror that we lived with day by day.
“We saw Connie become a storm, thundering in hearts right across the nation, banging on doors, and shaking our windows, and saying ‘wake up, live, now, for now is awesome’.”
He thanked the Love Your Sister community and urged them to continue the fight against cancer.
“I saw you light her up on days when nothing else was going to do it,” he said.
“Thank you very much for taking our Con into your hearts for wrapping your arms around this amazing woman.
“Thank you for keeping her safe, you all did an amazing job, Connie was very proud of you, I’m very proud, well done, keep going.”
Several members of Connie’s family spoke at the service, including sister Hilde Hinton, brother David Winter and nephew Jonathon Hinton.
Following the service, her actor brother Samuel Johnson said he was going to “sit by the river” and have his first week off in six years, before coming back “so much f***ing stronger it’s not funny”.
“Cancer treats our millions with scorn and contempt and now that Love Your Sister has genuine grass level community support … it’s up to me now to go the corporate world and do the same,” he said.
“Once we’ve got everyone together and on the same page, then we charge the hill.
“I’m going to go to the best, I’m not going to take no for an answer, and I’m going to work out who can help me provide the acceleration we need to end this quicker so these needless deaths stop occurring.”
He said the past few years had been tough on Connie but a “privilege, a gift and an honour” for him.
Love Your Sister volunteer Helen Ritchie was part of the organising committee for Connie’s final public event for the charity, The Big Heart Project, which raised $2.55 million for cancer research.
“The morning after her Big Heart Project … a young woman came up to Connie and explained that she had lost her mother as a teenager, she hugged Connie and they both cried,” she said.
“The young woman is studying to become a medical scientist, and when she walked away, Connie said to me, the money we raised yesterday could pay her wages for her whole career.
“That’s why she was prepared to sacrifice even time away from her family and her own boys, because for Con it was bigger than just her family, and I get that now.”