While many sisters can barely get their brothers to give them a call, Connie Johnson was able to convince hers to ride across the country on a unicycle, all in the name of fundraising for cancer support.
Connie, who lives in Kingston with her husband and two young sons, knows more about cancer than anyone should have to in their lifetime.
She’s faced the disease three times in her life, with diagnoses when she was 11, 22, and most recently with breast cancer at 33-years-old.
After that diagnosis three years ago, Connie and her brother, actor Sam Johnson, were joking around about what they could achieve before Connie passed away.
Connie said, “a couple of vodkas were involved”, but she convinced him to cycle over 15,000km across Australia on a unicycle, setting a Guinness World Record and raising over $1.75 million.
On Friday Sam, best known for his role on Australian drama Secret Life of Us, flew into Canberra to present a cheque for $200,000 with Connie to the Canberra-based Cancer Support Group.
Connie credits the group for supporting her and her family financially when they needed it most.
“Everyone can understand how a diagnosis can impact you emotionally, but you don’t necessarily think about how that impacts you financially and the financial impact is huge,” she said.
“I was taken out of the workforce without a minute’s notice so we went from being a family with two wages to being a family with one wage overnight.”
The Cancer Support Group helped Connie and her family with paying bills, including her expensive pharmacy bill, as well as helping out with food and petrol vouchers.
“There’s lots of people living with cancer in our community, and they give that support without asking any questions or degrading you or making you feel undignified,” she said.
Connie said she was motivated to raise the money because she didn’t want her death to be meaningless.
“When I was first diagnosed as terminal, facing my own death was a big question mark and I wanted it to mean something,” she said.
“My primary goal is to try to prevent even one other family from going through what we’re going through by promoting early diagnosis, because early diagnosis is the difference between living and dying.”
If she had been diagnosed earlier, Connie said she would be back in the workforce and breast cancer would be a part of her past.
“I’d be going to primary school with my kids and worried about them being teenagers and now because I wasn’t diagnosed early I’m dying of the disease and I’ll probably be dead within a year or two,” she said.
“So promoting the early diagnosis and giving back to the organisations that helped me were a big priority to make my death more meaningful.”
To raise the funds, Sam spent 12 months completing the record-breaking trip on a unicycle, which he had learned to ride as a kid.
"I got to meet people from all works of life and see about every inch of this beautiful country," he said.
Connie's health prevented her from joining Sam on the road, but she met him in capital cities when she was up to it.
"I never knew if she’d be well enough to visit," he said.
"It was a great relief to have her healthy enough."
And it seems they're not finished yet.
The pair is writing a book about the experience, which is due out by Christmas, and they are also in talks about potentially doing a similar trip around New Zealand.
But Sam doesn't recommend unicycling to others.
"It’s not a great way to get around. I’ve converted back to a two-wheeler," he said.
"The reason unicycles aren’t in common use is they make no sense – they’re implausible contraptions."