What would you do if your sister was terminally ill? Samuel Johnson’s sister Connie is dying of Breast Cancer so he’s setting out on an epic challenge. He’s riding around Australia on a unicycle!

This is the story of Samuel’s journey around Australia, so keep checking for regular updates as he endures everything our country can throw at him... all the while wondering why he’s attempting this trip on just one wheel.

Connie’s Diary: Flying Business Class to surprise Sam

The flight over to Perth was awesome! I got to fly business class and they had these pods to sit in. The chairs extend and you can lie flat, and the chairs have an inbuilt massager! I had a big sleep and when I woke up there was a cupcake beside me! How delightful. I can see why people fly business class now; I have always thought, why would you spend all that extra money, when the flight will be over, you get off and forget about it? Now I get it, you get to be comfortable, spread out, sleep and eat at your leisure.


After this flight I am ready to surprise Sam, I wonder how he will react when he sees me?

Connie’s Diary: Preparing for the big surprise

After Darwin, I wasn’t sure that I would make it to Perth, but the whole time I have been hoping that I would make it. I couldn’t commit, because I never know how I will be feeling in advance, but when ‘The Project’ offered to fly me over for a surprise visit to Sam I was so excited.

I have had to keep it a secret from Sam, which has felt cruel. Every time he asked if I was coming to Perth I had to say that I wasn’t feeling strong enough and it wasn’t looking good. It felt absolutely awful lying to him, but I really wanted to surprise him in Perth. The plan was that Carrie would go over to Perth, and ride into Perth with Sam (on a 2 wheeler) then she would present me as a surprise once they got there. When Sam heard that Carrie would be joining him on the road he rang me up and said “Con, you have to come to Perth now, Carrie Bickmore is coming and riding with me, you have to come, you can’t miss this!”

I felt like such a phoney when I said that I would love to, but I just can’t, the kids need me and Mike has exams, so I really can’t come, plus I just don’t know if I am up to travelling at the moment. Samuel was so excited that it felt awful to fib to him, but the surprise should be worth it.

Connie’s Diary: Visiting Hammy’s Class

Last year, in the times when I was feeling ok, I went to Willoughby’s class and helped out one afternoon per week. I assisted with reading, craft, and crowd control, which is what school is like sometimes. I really enjoyed seeing Willoughby in his classroom, with all of the children he talks about at home. It was also great to get to know the other children in his class and just being involved helped lift my spirits and give me something to look forward to each week.

Love Your Sister has been taking up most of my spare time and energy this year, so I haven’t been able to do the same thing for Hamilton in his first year of school, but lately, since I have been having a chemo break and feeling a little more energised, I have been able to get back to the school to help out. It is really great being back, and doing this year, what I did with Willoughby last year.

It is really great to see Hamilton at school, and get to know his friends and classmates. I just love being in the classroom, I think if I had my time again I would study teaching and become a teacher, perhaps in a special needs environment, to incorporate my love for the disability field. I really do love the classroom and helping young students with the reading and activities. It is so amazing to watch them grow up in that first year of school; they make a huge transformation from being pre-schoolers to being big school kids by the end of the first year. It is incredible. I hope that my health stays strong and that I can continue to go and help in the class as I really enjoy and so does Hammy.

Connie’s Diary: Hammy Star Wars Party

Hammy was invited to a Star Wars birthday party recently. He has never seen Star Wars (neither have I), but he has books, and they talk about it at school, so he knows all the characters, and seems to love it. He chose to dress up as Anniken as a child, as he had seen in a book, which was perfect, because he has the same hair as the little boys who plays the part in the movie, and looks quite like him.

When I went to buy the fabric to make his costume, he innocently asked me if I had bought the material in the Star Wars section of the shop. How cute is that? I love that he thinks there would be a section just for Star Wars material in the fabric shop!

Anyway, here he is, dressed up as little Anniken, and next to him, is a picture of little Anniken from the movie. Spot the difference!

Connie’s Diary: First Time Recognised

Some of my friends have been saying that I am famous now, and I really don’t think that I am, and I certainly don’t feel like it. Walking down the corridor in the hospital I hear, “Is that you Connie?” and I turn around expecting to see one of my nurses or doctors, but it is someone I have never seen before and she says, “I recognised you from the TV, you’re brother is riding his unicycle around the country isn’t he?” I was quite shocked; she knew my name, recognised my face and knew all about Love Your Sister. I guess we are getting our message out there if people I don’t know know about us! How bizarre?

LOVE YOUR WALPOLE WILDERNESS

Since the very beginning of LYS, when Connie and I decided that we’d combine our challenge system with her own personal bucket-list, Connie was adamant that I experience the tree top walk in the Walpole Wilderness on her behalf. It’s a series of boardwalks strung 40 metres above ground, snaking through the tops of the beautiful Tingle Tree Forrest. These are no ordinary trees - they tower higher than any other trees I’ve seen before, reminiscent of The Magic Faraway Tree. The trees there are so tall and majestic; it felt unreal. So it was with mixed feelings that I embarked upon her challenge - to ride through the tree tops atop my one-wheeler. It felt wrong that she wasn’t there, but at the same time it was impossible not to appreciate the majesty of the place. I recorded this little vid to try and help capture the experience. A great reward really, for enduring the most challenging undulations of the trip thus far. Sorry to rub it in sis!

Connie’s Diary: Missing Sam

Spoke to Sam on the phone after all was said and done in Melbourne. It was great to have so much news for him, about Mornington Secondary College, The Sisterhood Cocktail Party and meeting Sophie Weston. Love Your Sister unites us in so many ways, because we are working on the same project, but ironically is also separates us, and sometimes I miss him so much.

It’s not just missing him that is hard sometimes, though, it is also that I feel like he is able to experience all the things we planned together, while I am back at home, having to stay close to a hospital. I have missed out on Uluru and the Ord River, which have been the hardest, as they are things I really wanted to do in my lifetime, but also things we talked so much about while we were planning this massive adventure.

Sam said on the phone that he thinks of me every day and sometimes he feels like he has told me things, that he hasn’t because he is telling people he meets along the way instead. So he took this opportunity to tell me these things he tells people on the road. That he thinks of me every time it gets hard to pedal. That he hates that there is no cure for my cancer and that it makes him mad as hell. He feels helpless, and realises from time to time that no matter how far he rides, how much money we raise or how much awareness we spread, my cancer will still not go away, it will still kill me, and that makes him feel very empty inside. But on the upside, we are doing something, at least we are trying to make a difference, and we are doing it while I am still well enough to enjoy, and follow what is happening.

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Connie’s Diary: St Margarets College Berwick: Sophie Weston

One day a couple of months ago, Em (behind the scenes manager) told me about a year 12 Student who had ridden from Canberra to Melbourne on a two wheeled bike to raise money for Love Your Sister. I was amazed that such a young person would be so dedicated to the community and to helping others that she could a: organise such an event, and b: ride that distance.

The school requested that we send a representative from Love Your Sister to pick up the cheque. I was so impressed by this students efforts that I wanted to go personally, to meet this amazing young women, see the school she represents and accept the cheque on behalf of Love Your Sister.

I am so glad I went personally. Meeting Sophie Weston was an incredible experience. People often tell me that they think I am inspirational, but to me, all the people who do things to help Love Your Sister are inspiring, and Sophie Weston is an outstanding example of what people can do when they put their mind to something.

Before we went we didn’t know how much money the school and Sophie had raised. We arrived at the school for a special assembly for the presentation of the cheque. I think there were about 300 students there and we watched a short video presentation then we heard from the principal, from Sophie and I did a speech before the a group of year 12’s sang a delightful song about celebrating who you are, and loving what makes you different from the others.

 

During the biggest year of her schooling life, Sophie sacrificed her school holidays to ride about 700km from Canberra to Melbourne. Her parents, Sue and Gary are right behind her, inspiring her, assisting her and allowing her to flourish. Her sister was her main support, riding some of the distance with her. Her relationship with her sister was a lovely touch to this incredible achievement.

The Social committee at St Margarets worked together to raise around $1500 and together with funds raised by Sophie on her bike riding adventure, they raised $7020.80! What an achievement, Sophie you are amazing, and you shine brightly and give older people in Australia a lot to look forward to. You have shown remarkable initiative, dedication, leadership and empathy. I look forward to seeing what you achieve as you get older, you are definitely someone who could take on the world, and win.

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Another bonus about going to St Margarets was that I got to see my gorgeous cousin Zoe, it was great to see you, a lovely surprise, I hadn’t realised it was your school I was visiting Zoe.

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Connie’s Diary: Sisterhood Cocktail Party

Preparation for Cocktail party

The whole team at Envy Boutique Hair Spa in Frankston got behind Love Your Sister while we were in town for the cocktail party. When we arrived we saw Love Your Sister posters all over the salon and Nicole and Alanah kindly did our hair for the cocktail party. It was a luxurious experience to prepare for the cocktail party, and got me feeling in the mood for a big night on the town. I was feeling so nervous about going to the event, as Sam wasn’t going to be there, it is an all-girls night, and it is all about me. Having my hair done nicely helped me feel confident about being the centre of attention.

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How cute are the tickets for the cocktail party?

 

Sisterhood

A group of 3 women in Mornington, who named themselves The Sisterhood, began planning huge cocktail party back in February. It was to be an event in honour of little old me, for women to get together and raise money for and awareness of breast cancer whilst having a great night out. Susan, Lizzie and Lauren have done an amazing job organising this fun fundraiser.

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Lizzie, Lauren, Susan, Connie

I always have trouble committing to going to events as I am never sure in advance if I will be well enough on the day to attend, so this was organised on the premise that I would come if I could, but that it would be a great night regardless, and it really was.

One of the great things about the night was that everyone was given a Sisterhood T-shirt as part of the ticket price, so we were all wearing the same thing and it brought us closer, broke down barriers and allowed people to meet so much easier. Great idea Sisterhood!

Soul Trader, a great little 3 piece band had everybody moving and grooving followed by Susan and Stephanie who are very talented and entertaining singers. There were numerous prizes in a raffle and silent auction. There was also a photo booth with lots of pink props for friends to take silly photos of themselves in. The Mornington Yacht Club generously donated the venue and Security was provided free of charge by All Skilled Hospitality Services managed by an old mate from my days in Mornington, Lindsay Hart. Limousine transport was provided by LR Limousines. I felt like a superstar getting driven in a limo, then being greeted by the owners personally and taken to a table for refreshments on arrival, while the ladies were watching video presentations by Carrie Bickmore and Samuel, and I was eating delicious homemade homous with bread so that I wasn’t drinking on an empty stomach. Then I entered the function where 200 women were clapping and cheering. It was quite surreal and I got the feeling that this is what it must have felt like for Samuel when he was on ‘The Secret Life of Us’.

My gorgeous cousins came, and I got to have fun, drink and dance with them. The wonderful Abby got up on a table and danced her little heart out, and Alison wasn’t able to come, but the girls made up for that by making sure she won the pole dancing classes in the silent auction!

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Throughout the evening I got to meet so many wonderful people who shared their stories of parenthood, battles with cancer and lost loved ones with me. It was very touching hearing their stories and I got heaps of free hugs.

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Little Black Booth donated a photo booth which was so much fun, we all had silly photos taken at some stage during the night. Pink wigs, hats, glasses and props for a pinkalicious photo booth session. At the end of the night I was given an album of all of the photos taken throughout the night, with notes from the people in the photos. It was fun at the time, and I get to remember the evening and everyone I met through this special album with so many lovely messages in it for me, Sam and Love Your Sister.

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I did another speech, and this one went a lot better, though I did cry a few times. I was stunned that a room full of women, mostly drinking, chatting and dancing fell dead silent during my speech. They all listened to me talk about my experiences with cancer and what Sam and I are doing to try to make women more breast aware. It really brought it home to me that Love Your Sister is working, we are spreading the word, our message; “don’t fall into the booby trap, be breast aware” is getting out there. People are hearing us. I hope that after tonight at least some of the women who came along will self-examine or go to their doctors for examinations. Just keeping track of your lumps and bumps is a start, then you know if anything changes and can go and get a professional check-up and mammogram and ultrasound if necessary. Most of the women here at the Sisterhood cocktail party are mums, most around my age, our exact demographic, the people who we want to hear our message the loudest. So many people think that Breast Cancer is a disease that affects older women, and I was told myself that I was too young, that my problem was not likely to be cancer because of my age. But since I have been diagnosed I have met and re-met so many younger women with the disease, it is truly frightening. And if I had been more proactive and insisted on testing instead of being content with being told that it wasn’t cancer, maybe my cancer would have been detected early enough for it to be something treatable – not something that would take my life. As angry as I am with the doctors who told me that I had mastitis, I am also angry with myself for not insisting on further tests, for believing them and not pushing for my own health and wellbeing.  So I really hope that the guests tonight went away with that message, don’t fall into the booby trap.

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Susan, it was a pleasure to meet you, you have a special energy and vibrancy about you that made it very easy to hang out with you, and I felt somehow like I had known you for ages, even though we only just met. I loved your singing and the bond that you share with your daughter, the beautiful and talented Stephanie is apparent just by looking at you two together.

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Lizzie, what a sweetheart you are, you have worked incredibly hard for a long time to bring this event together and your hard work and dedication paid off, it was a tremendous night, best girls night out I have ever had the pleasure of being a part of.

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Lizzie on the right

Lauren, your organisational skills, problem solving and dedication are second to none, what an honour it was to meet you. Please know how much I appreciate all of your ideas, commitment and drive, and the part you played in making tonight the huge success it was.

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Lauren and Sue

Together, the Sisterhood raised over $14 500 in one night. This would not have been possible without the generosity of local businesses and individuals who donated prizes for the raffle and services to make the evening the huge fun-raiser that it was.

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 Leaving in the limo was the perfect way to end a wonderful evening, and again I felt like I was famous or something, it certainly wasn’t just any other night on the town, and it certainly didn’t finish with a cab ride home, so I felt very special. Thanks to Susan, Lizzie and Lauren for making everything happen tonight. It was magical.

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Huge Thanks go out to:

  • Brazilian butterfly for supplying Lotion and a $50 voucher
  • Chicken on Main for donating 2 Dinner Vouchers
  • Dawn Clavin for donating 2 Water Colours
  • Polelicious for supplying 4 week mini pole dancing classes
  • Tuerong Vineyard Estate for giving 6 bottle of Shiraz
  • Ultimate Fitness for supplying a 6 month membership
  • Party hire for Kids for the Balloon displays
  • Intimo for the Lingerie
  • Melbourne Tarp Hire for a builders Tarp
  • Minzenmay for the Pandora Bracelet
  • National Australia Bank for a Donation
  • Farrells Bookstore for donating a signed book by Julie Goodwin
  • Onde for giving a lovely hamper
  • Drew’s Pantry for donating a great hamper
  • Rozanne Watts for the beautiful handmade ring
  • Race Aviation for donating a joy flight
  • Stufflers Party for Kids for giving a Bear Making Party
  • Enliven for the gorgeous Lamp
  • Words for Friends for the Scrabble Wall Plaque
  • Peninsula Surf for vouchers
  • Zenyu for donating vouchers
  • Fox FM, the Matt and Jo Show
  • Officeworks Frankston for supplying the name badges
  • Novel Tees for supplying the Tee Shirts
  • Mymojo Physiotherapy for donating a wellbeing pack
  • Fernwood for giving a 1 month membership

And the major sponsors of the evening, who truly made this night a possibility, and the huge success that it was, we must thank, from the bottom of my heart, Jacobs and Lowe, Barmah Park and The Rocks.

One of the prizes that was auctioned on the night was a Photographic package by The Story Within who is also doing a great prize for me and my family which I am really excited about. They are going to photograph me, Mike and the boys together. Outside playing, walking, running and having fun, but also indoors, reading, and playing quietly, because this is what I spend a lot of my time with the boys doing. I had a look at some of their work, and it was truly beautiful, they captured those moments in families that are so precious, the looks between mother and child, husband and wife, and between the children. If our photo shoot turns out to be even half as good as some of the examples we saw I will be so happy, and it will a gift that the kids will have forever that will help keep the memory of their mum alive, long after I am gone. It is a very thoughtful gift and I am very touched by Sue and Cara by their generous offer to give a package away as an auction item, but also to give another package away for our family. This must be tougher than more than ever because everyone has digital cameras and cameras on their phones, and thinks they can capture the magic. But the difference between a shot taken by my husband or me of the kids, the quality of a photo taken by a professional with the experience that Sue and Cara have is enormous. Thanks Sue and Cara for your kind offer and I look forward to our photo session.

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Connie’s Diary: Mornington Secondary College

Mornington Secondary College

Mornington Secondary College is one of the schools Sam and I attended when we were kids. Before Launching Love Your Sister we contacted all of our old schools to see if their current students would like to participate in the launch. Mornington jumped at the chance, they had T-shirts made and they made big pink flags, the 40 member strong drum corps played drums and 350 students attended the launch to cheer Sam on. Their support has been incredible and Sam and I are both interested in seeing how they are going. So it was a privilege for me to attend a special Love Your Sister Assembly at Mornington Secondary College on Friday 24th May.

The drum corps marched the students into the hall, and then did some drumming and marching around the hall. The choir sang the national anthem and 3 separate bands each played a song each. A solo saxophonist played a song to a funny clip, the aerobics club performed and some of the students and the principal made speeches. Hanging on the wall in the background was a huge banner with big letters spelling out my name in pink that was made by the textiles class. It was incredibly moving to have a whole assembly dedicated to Love Your Sister.

The Students at Mornington Secondary College have pledged to match Sam dollar for kilometre, thereby aiming to raise $15000 throughout the year, while Sam pedals 15 000kms around the country. They have raised over $4600 so far through a swimathon, sausage sizzles and cake stalls. The whole school community is getting behind Sam and Love Your Sister with such enthusiasm.

I saw so many students excelling in drama, public speaking, music and sport. They have worked hard to develop these skills and are proud of their achievements. It gives me great hope for the future that young people are dedicated to their education, keen and interested in the world around them, and are so socially responsible and involved. I am so impressed with everything I saw at Mornington Secondary College.

I did a quick speech, but I was so nervous I didn’t do very well. It was a learning experience for me, I can do better at this next time. I felt a little inadequate next to the amazing students who excelled at public speaking and moved me to tears with their inspirational words and speeches. It was somehow so daunting talking to 1300 students all at once. Sam says he gets nervous every time he does an interview or a speech, and it seems silly because on the outside he appears so confident, but I have seen him psych himself up for it and get into the groove before interviews and speeches, he somehow finds the zone. I have to learn to do that, mental note, ask Sam for tips on how to be confident and not freak out when speaking in public.

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I got to meet a lot of the students after the assembly. There was lots of emotion, some of the students were crying, which made me emotional. I was talking to the students, asking them how school was, how the fundraising was going and telling them how much I loved the assembly. Then I met Reilly and I asked her if she had been affected by cancer. She told me that she had lost her father to melanoma 2 years ago. My heart fell into my boots, I was so sad for her. She is an amazing young woman, strong and gentle and remembers her father very fondly. It really touched me talking to her about her Dad and her experience with cancer. Although it was painful for her, her strength shone through, and it gave me hope for my kids for the future. If Reilly can cope, and be strong and focused at school and she remembers her dad, then maybe my kids will be OK after I’m gone and they will stay on the rails, and importantly for me, they might remember me. When I was diagnosed Willoughby was 4 (it was his birthday) and Hammy was about to turn 3. Our mum died when I was 4 and Sam was 3 and we have no memories of her. I was so afraid that I would die and they would have no memories of me, just like Sam and I with Mum, but they are growing up now, they are both at school and every day I get to spend with them is another day that we build memories together.

Reilly, you touched my heart and I am inspired by your strength, I am sure your Dad would be incredibly proud of you.

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