Wrapped in a pink hoodie and with a set of Derwent pencils at hand, Connie Johnson – co-founder of cancer charity Love Your Sister – has found “peace, love and friendship” at the Canberra hospice where she’s in the final stages of breast and liver cancer.
In a photo shared on the Love Your Sister Instagram page, the mother-of-two smiles as she sits with a friend, armed with a stash of adult colouring-in books and chocolate chip cookies.
“Quiet night chatting and colouring with an old friend,” she wrote, using the charity’s #nowisawesome hashtag.
“Life can still have great moments.”
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A month ago, Connie 40, stopped all treatment and checked in to the Clare Holland House hospice, where she was “as comfortable as can be”, according to said her Gold Logie-winning actor brother, Samuel Johnson.
The Molly star, 39, wrote in a post shared to the Love Your Sister Facebook page on July 17: “Con has needed a lot of time lately to try and comprehend the total headf**kery that ‘actively dying’ brings.”
At that point, she put a hold on her social media presence.
“All too overwhelming right now,” posted Samuel. “She admitted this is the most difficult thing she’s ever had to face.”
For Connie, there’s a list of difficult things. She’s been diagnosed with cancer three times: with Ewing’s Sarcoma at 11, a rare – and in her case, cancerous – condition called molar pregnancy when she was 22. Then came incurable breast cancer.
At the time of her last diagnosis, her sons, Willoughby, now 10, and Hamilton, 9, were just toddlers.
Sitting in a wheelchair on a Melbourne University stage in June during one of her last outings, Connie told 1400 medical students her fear used to be she would die before her boys got to know her.
Now, “I have this thought that comes into my head all the time,” she told The Project in May, “where one day I’ll be holding the children’s hands and then I’ll be gone.
“And my pain will be over, and theirs will just be beginning.”
I just got off the blower with old Constantinople (she hates that!) and she wanted me to post here for her. So many of…
Before her hospice admission, Connie packed in as much living as she could.
She and the family flew to Noosa for a holiday, and after a June hospital stay – she spent her time playing Monopoly with her boys and updating letters to them – Connie was given “gate leave” by doctors to take Willoughby and Hamilton to a Canberra wildlife lodge.
She was surprised by a visit from Karl Stefanovic, who took her and Samuel to lunch.
“I can’t believe my life,” posted Connie, who held back tears when asked by the Today host what she’s most proud of.
“My children,” she said. “I already know in my heart that they’ll grow up to be fine young men, and there will be a lot of people to guide them in my absence.”
When a stranger told her on social media that she looked “glowing” in a photo, Connie replied personally.
“It surprises me every day that I have cancer all through my body, but hardly look sick,” she said.
“It makes my prognosis harder to deal with ‘cos it doesn’t quite seem real just looking at me.”
So far, Love Your Sister has raised more than $4.5 million for breast cancer research. Connie’s “last hurrah”, the Big Heart Project, saw more than $2 million in five-cent coins piled into a giant heart in Canberra on May 10.
After Connie’s speech at Melbourne University, Samuel wrote an open letter to her: “I’m proud to walk you to the hardest part of the road. The end. The only part of the road in your life that must sadly be travelled alone.”