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Something quite extraordinary happened in Canberra this week, and across the country. You may have noticed it – a mammoth pouring out of love and support and millions (yes, millions!) of five cent pieces into one huge glistening heart of hope. It was all for Connie, who has recently stopped cancer treatment after 11 years, and the Love Your Sister charity she heads up with brother Sam, aiming to raise enough funds to kick cancer in the face-hole. I think that just might be a euphemism.

This was a day that has been long in the making. It started with a pledge by a brother hell-bent on helping out and a year-long ride around Australia on a unicycle to raise awareness and funds, with a lofty aim of raising $10 million for cancer research. It continued for years, amassing solid support and dollars but struggled for attention in a crowded space, while Connie continued her own struggle.

Then Connie had an idea – to make the longest chain of five cent pieces in the world – and planning for the Big Heart Project began.

And what a project it became. On Wednesday, it all came to a head in an explosion of heart-felt emotion and support. Not just in Canberra, where the whole bloody town went off, but much of the country joined in too. Having collected coins for weeks or months at work or home, thousands dropped in all day to say hello and lined up to toss in their silver. (Yes, people lined up and waited to give away money – how often does that happen?) People madly deposited collections at Bendigo Banks around Australia or bought ‘metres’ to help break a record or bought other stuff online. Many travelled ridiculous distances and hours from Queensland and Victoria to be part of the day, and others connected online during the day. One woman wrote she took the day off work so she could the day unfold on social media.

The city erupted in a fuzz of warmth and giving and hope. And the donations rolled in – $300,000 plus in silver coins and another $2.2 million in bank donations, more than double the amount that had been dreamt about. Way more than was possible to line up in a row, so we tossed them into a huge heart instead. All those little pesky coins. Suddenly they were almost worth their weight in gold. Okay, not quite.

It was as if it was some sort of huge party, with balloons and face painting and a jumping castle and just about everything else, and sometimes it was hard to remember there was something very sad and sinister lurking underneath it all. There were tears too among the smiles and sparkles, because everyone was acutely aware that for at least one person, and maybe many more there, time was limited and that’s why we were there after all.

So what was it about this project, this couple and this cause, that somehow brought us all together in a way that rarely happens? Cancer is not uncommon. People and families are devastated by it every day around the world, so Connie’s story, horribly sad though it is, is of course not unique. It’s a tough gig trying to break through when the world is hurting in so many ways and there’s a myriad of worthy causes vying for attention, so this was indeed a remarkable feat.

Connie’s a strong, determined, thoughtful and articulate woman with big ideas, and she has an endearing, enthusiastic, eloquent and adoring brother of some celebrity who’s been willing to dedicate years of his life to this cause. That’s a good combination. Maybe it was the simplicity of the idea of contributing those little coins that everyone has lurking about, the lure of helping break a world record, or perhaps that it was because the cause was something everyone could understand, because everyone’s been touched by cancer. Maybe it was Connie and Sam’s ability to connect and inspire, garner support through their friends and networks, or sheer hard work?

It was probably everything, and it definitely worked. There was something very special about this project. It gained momentum, enlisted a veritable army of volunteers, gathered a village, and inspired and united people across the country. It somehow captured the heart of the nation and ignited it, and became a phenomenon. And in the process over $2.2 million dollars was put into the coffers for the Garvan Institute of Medical Research for cancer research (all types of cancer). And counting.

The commitment and efforts of Connie and Sam have been remarkable, and has no doubt the support of their family. But what has been extraordinary too has been the dedication of the army of volunteers (the ‘vollies’) that have been supporting this project and Connie, for weeks, months and even years. And it’s a bloody big army. Friends, acquaintances and even a bevy of absolute strangers towards the end swelling the numbers, as well as corporate sponsors and supporters left right and centre. In particular there was a core committee of long term and committed workers who’ve been on board for a year.

Other tales of support have also been amazing, with individuals with their own campaigns joining in, kids as well as adults, some giving up work, busking or making toys to raise funds and join in. I’m blown away by how immense and dedicated this support has been, and how huge the task has been. The widespread smattering of hot pink t-shirts and caps on the day of volunteer workers represented just a snippet of those involved. Kudos to you all. With so many vollies involved, it seems particularly appropriate that the event took place bang-smack in the middle of National Volunteers week. Without them, it wouldn’t have been possible. As they said, it took a village.

It was a big day, when we were joined together in something quite special. It’s just heartbreaking that despite the achievement and celebration of the day, not too long from now we will inevitably lose the woman at the heart of it, a mother, wife, friend, sister, woman, champion.

Here’s a pictorial of the day from some of our photos, including a snippet of the lead up. I was pleased to be a small part of this heart-warming page in community history, behind the scenes in cyberland, alongside my very talented insta-queen daughter @georgeandgouma and a few other clever girls with quick fingers behind phones and computer screens, a couple whom I’ve only met virtually. Somehow serendipitously and at the last minute we came together so we could share the story of the day with the rest of the country on Instagram and Twitter where thousands more people joined in. Colour and coins, cheers and tears, hope and heart.

Wishing Connie and every other person in the world with cancer, present and future, the very best. May this effort bring hope for those that follow.

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