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Love Your Sister's Connie Johnson's 'last hurrah' - raise another $1 million for breast cancer research

Love Your Sister's Connie Johnson is heartbreakingly pragmatic.

"This is my last hurrah," she said.

The Canberra mother-of-two has been battling breast cancer for almost seven years and believes her end is near as she makes the momentous decision to end all treatment.

She is still focusing on one last fundraising effort - to raise another $1 million for breast cancer research.

Love Your Sister has organised the Big Heart Project to take place in Canberra on May 10.

It has been collecting 5 cent coins from around Australia to create an unofficial world record but more importantly raise money for breast cancer research and awareness.

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Connie will be on hand throughout the day for the event at the Lyneham netball courts, where Canberrans can drop off last-minute 5-cent-coin collections to help make an enormous heart of coins.

"We would love Canberran villagers to come down and say g'day to me and it gives me an opportunity to thank them for their support over the years," she said.

"That is pretty much what the day is going to be about for me - thanking everyone."

And the Love Your Sister village is extensive - not least in its more than 350,000 Facebook followers, many of whom plan to travel to Canberra for the event.

The world record for the longest line of coins measured 75.24 km and was set in Austria in 2011. Love Your Sister is likely to unofficially break that record, but the logistics of the space mean the coins will be stacked in a heart-shape, not placed in a line.

"We're hoping for a million dollars just in the heart. We're up to $600,000. We're trying to make it a million dollar heart," Connie said.

"It will definitely be my last big project."

Connie, 40, has decided to cease all treatment as the cancer has once again attacked her liver. The chemotherapy she was on has not helped, but instead caused her further distressing side effects.

Her treatment over the years has included double mastectomy as well as chemotherapy and radiation. She also had three to four years of treatment for bone cancer she suffered at age 11 and a tumour in her womb at 22.

"So that's 10 to 11 years of cancer treatment in a 40-year lifespan and I guess my organs are just saying, 'No more. No more'," she said.

"And I thought maybe it was time to consider stopping treatment. So we called a family meeting. And basically, it wasn't my choice. I can't have any more chemo medically. So that's a game changer.

"I asked what to expect and at some point the tumours will grow back and grow bigger and I'll go into liver failure and I'll sleep a lot. Apparently it's quite peaceful."

It seems quite stunning that she can still concentrate on the welfare of others. But that's always been the case.

Connie has been the public face of Love Your Sister, the organisation she formed with brother Samuel Johnson. Love Your Sister has raised $2.1 million for breast cancer research, including $1.5 million over 2013-14 when Samuel unicycled around Australia. Recipients have included the Garvan Institute of Medical Research.

Connie has given over so much of her personal life to Love Your Sister. It's not unusual for volunteers to be sitting around her kitchen table in Kaleen packing fundraising merchandise.

Her boys Willoughby, 10, and Hamilton, nine, have spent their childhood living with the cancer.
On a recent visit to Willoughby's school to promote the Big Heart Project, Connie was both proud and saddened when the young boy started speaking, unprompted, to his classmates about the impact of cancer on the family's life.
"He said things like, 'My mum is always tired so I don't spend as much time with my mum as you do with your mum'," she said.
Schools are hosting a "Five Cent Friday" as part of the campaign. You can download free activity packs at www.loveyoursister.ecwid.com Click on "The Big Heart Project". The packs can also be used for workplaces, community groups and others to fundraise.

Carrie Bickmore from TV show The Project will be doing a final television interview with Connie shortly in Canberra to also help promote the big heart of coins.

On the day of the Big Heart Project there will be old-fashioned games for the kids, a path of reflection to commemorate a loved one with cancer and the chance to add coins to the heart.

The day on May 10 will run from 8am to 8pm at the Lyneham netball courts at 435 Northbourne Avenue in Lyneham.

"You can come in the morning before work and grab your coffee and throw in your coins. You can come during the day with younger kids or after school with older kids," Connie said.

Bendigo Bank is also supporting the Big Heart Project. You can offload spare change of any denomination at any branch of the Bendigo Bank.

The details are:

  • Account name Love your Sister Inc.
  • BSB 633 000
  • Account Number 156977449
  • Reference Donor name

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