Connie Johnson passed away on September 8th, 2017, after years plagued by a love-hate relationship with breast cancer.
“I hate cancer, but cancer loves me,” she said before her passing.
Her brother, Sam, told Mia Freedman on the day before her funeral that he didn’t want us to remember her as a hero. According to him, she wasn’t one. She was a normal human, who had breast cancer, which eventually overcame her.
She wasn’t a fighter, he said. Because the fight against cancer is never a fair one. She never stood a chance.
While we are more than willing to argue Connie’s ‘hero’ status with Sam, what’s inarguable is the legacy she’s left behind – a legacy encouraging mums and daughters and neighbours and work-mates all over Australia to check their boobs; a legacy being maintained by all the beautiful villagers at Love Your Sister.
Emma Rooke, Lucy Freeman, and Hilde Johnson are three of those Villagers. They made the difficult, yet professional, decision to remain entirely behind-the-scenes during Sam and Connie’s campaign to raise both money and awareness for breast cancer; entirely behind-the-scenes during the final days and weeks of her life, despite being three of the most important women in it.
Emma Rooke summarises Connie Johnson in three words: “Force of nature.”
Em’s been best friends with Connie since the age of 12, when she had her first run-in with cancer. Connie and Emma met directly after Connie’s final round of childhood chemotherapy treatment.
Listen: Emma Rooke speaks beautifully of her time with Connie with Mia Freedman below. Post continues after audio…
“It [cancer] has always been our life. Even after the last chemo had happened she was still a cancer kid,” Rooke says.
“All of the appointments, we would do them together. All the treats that cancer kids get… I got them all too.”
They worked together at the local IGA, earning $50 each week, before building a small second-hand book empire from the Johnson family business. They had a shop called Flinders Books, on Flinders Street in Melbourne, and Em lived above the store.
Then, however, came Connie’s final cancer diagnosis. Em remembers it well.
“Right from the start, they were going to treat to cure… she’d beaten it twice. It was like, ‘we’ve been down this road before, here we go again’.”
Em goes on, “She went to her final chemo appointment, and they said ‘You’re all good, you’ve completed your chemo, congratulations. Off you go, you’ve done it again’.”
“She reminded them that they’d planned to do one final body scan on her to check a spot on her lung… the results of that scan were, ‘It’s metastasised. You’re terminal’.”
According to Em, Connie always regretted reminding the pathologists about that final scan. If she hadn’t, her final years may have been cancer free. At least, psychologically so.