Connie Johnson's Big Heart Project for Love Your Sister shines brightly in Canberra

Samuel Johnson and his big sister Connie at the Big Heart Project on Wednesday. Photo: Karleen Minney
Samuel Johnson and his big sister Connie at the Big Heart Project on Wednesday. Photo: Karleen Minney

There was something magical about Connie Johnson's Big Heart Project on a Canberra netball court on Wednesday.

Five cent pieces glinted in the autumn sun, the sense of camaraderie was palpable, the gratitude to a woman dying from breast cancer and her little brother, immense.

People were joyful but also thoughtful as they tossed five cent pieces on to a huge heart of coins on one of the courts. By nightfall, the heart had become a big silver lake of hope and generosity.

More than $2 million was raised for cancer research and a world record set for the biggest heart made from five cent pieces.

Connie Johnson in a sea of 5c coins, worth more than $2 million.  Photo: Facebook/Love Your Sister

Connie Johnson in a sea of 5c coins, worth more than $2 million. Photo: Facebook/Love Your Sister

"I've never felt so much love in my life," an elated Connie said.

"Everyone who is here is here for love, for passion, a cure. There's sadness, there's celebration."

The Canberra mother-of-two has terminal, late-stage breast cancer and recently decided to end all treatment.

But, as she retreats from public life and her fundraising and advocacy for the Love Your Sister organisation to concentrate on her own family, she wanted to go out in a big way.

"It kind of feels like a victory lap for Con," her brother Samuel said.

"A chance for her to go, 'You know what?' We kicked cancer in the face and we might as well grab another million before I'm done'. I just think it's so classy."

All money raised from Wednesday's event will go to the Garvan Institute into breast cancer research and other research projects on a range of other cancers.

"Whether it's 'rare', whether it's 'popular', whether it's 'trendy'. I hate all cancer and, as far as I'm concerned, they can all go and get stuffed," Samuel said.

Connie's motivation has always been to prevent another person having to say goodbye to their family due to the insidious disease.

"When I see on our social [media] more people being diagnosed and reaching out and talking to me, it's literally like putting a red hot poker through my heart," she said.

"The thought of other people having to go through the pain and the struggle, the relentlessness, the financial burden - cancer just seeps through every aspect of your family's life."

With Samuel and her boys Willoughby and Hamilton, along with "partner in life" Mike Johnson by her side, Connie  threw coins into the air and did a "coin angel" in the heart on  the Lyneham netball courts. Volunteers used brooms to sweep the thousands of coins into place.

Connie Johnson, with sons Willoughby and Hamilton, and her brother Samuel Johnson toss in coins for the Big Heart Project. Photo: Karleen Minney

Connie Johnson, with sons Willoughby and Hamilton, and her brother Samuel Johnson toss in coins for the Big Heart Project. Photo: Karleen Minney

It has been an exhausting few months organising the event but Connie's eyes were shining as brightly as the coins.

"I had a check-up on Monday with a nurse practitioner who's been looking after me for seven years and she said she's never seen me this well. And I think this might explain that," she said.

She and Samuel have already raised more than $4 million for breast cancer research, via Love Your Sister and his unicycle ride around Australia.

Wednesday was also an emotional goodbye and thank you to Connie, who has been the public face and quiet force behind Love Your Sister, which has hundreds of thousands of supporters or "villagers" around Australia.

"I will be retiring," Connie said.

"I will be focusing on my children. And spending the time with them that they need and what I'm desperately longing for."

People lined up from early Wednesday morning to add their five cent pieces to the heart. Among them was Nicholas Agnew, a year six student from nearby Rosary Primary School at Watson.

Performing a coin angel rather than a snow angel, Connie Johnson said she felt overwhelmed by the generosity of the Canberra community. Photo: Karleen Minney

Performing a coin angel rather than a snow angel, Connie Johnson said she felt overwhelmed by the generosity of the Canberra community. Photo: Karleen Minney

"A really close family friend had breast cancer," he said, simply.

Both Samuel and Connie praised Canberrans' generosity. While the Big Heart Project has been an Australia-wide endeavour, Canberra has been the focus of it and Love Your Sister's work as Connie made the national capital her home.

"She might have been born in Victoria, but she will absolutely leave this world a Canberran," Samuel said.

"I love this town," Connie  said. "And it's got a big heart. Literally."