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Gold Logie winner Samuel Johnson opens up about his cancer charity and an R-rated venture

interviews Sep 22, 2020

Samuel Johnson has been on our screens for close to 25 years, from his breakout role in The Secret Life of Us to his Gold Logie award-winning portrayal of Molly Meldrum. Arguably however, his greatest role has been that of fundraiser and co-founder of Love Your Sister – a 'cancer vanquishing' charity he founded with his sister Connie, who passed away from breast cancer in 2017, five years after they launched.

After taking a six-year hiatus to focus on fundraising, the 42-year old has re-entered the acting world, starring in Eden, an eight part murder-mystery Stan series. 'I said no to a lot of good stuff in the six years and the only reason I said yes to this was because of the quality of the script... it's a different show and it reads internationally if you know what I mean. So I was in!' With most TV and film shoots on hold this year due to COVID restrictions, Sam joins one of few TV shows currently in production.

TV production aside, COVID restrictions have had a far greater impact on Sam's charity work. 'It’s very hard to raise money for cancer research when you can’t go and visit people'. With in-person campaigning temporarily off the table, the Love Your Sister team has focused their efforts toward e-commerce, recently releasing two calendars for 2021. 'I wanted to prove that next year’s gonna happen,' Sam laughs, 'so I was just making calendars going "well this means there will be a next year", hopefully now we can hope for a next year that’s better than this one!'

Connie battled various types of cancer throughout her life. She was first diagnosed with bone cancer at 11, uterine cancer at the age of 22, and was ultimately diagnosed with terminal breast cancer at the age of 33. Grappling with the reality of her diagnosis Connie and Sam founded Love Your Sister. Their fundraising efforts kicked off with Sam's world record-breaking unicycle journey across Australia. Sam recalls the reality check he received from Connie upon his return: 'I got back and I thought it was all over and I was having a beer and I was really looking forward to getting back to my life to be honest and my sister said to me, "Sam this isn’t over when you get off the unicycle and it’s not over when I die. It’s over when we stop losing mums to cancer you moron." And I was like okay cool, well lets make it ten million [dollars].' Throughout their fundraising efforts, Love Your Sister has grown to be a million-strong 'village', made up of Australians affected by cancer and those committed to finding a cure.

Love Your Sister sells a variety of products on their website, from shopping bags to hand 'SAMitizer'. And – in a move that surprised many – it launched Love Your Sister After Dark, a partnership with sex toy brand Wild Secrets. For each toy sold, 25% of the sale goes to Love Your Sister. At first glance, this R-rated venture may seem a little out of left field, but a greater message lies at the heart of this campaign.  'As a male it’s been awkward but... this is a human thing. Whether I like it or not my sister is dead and I have to talk for us now, so I hope you’ll forgive me for even intervening on secret women's business but I have spoken personally to many thousands of women about cancer... and a lot of patients really struggle with their bodies after treatment.

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The great thing about our little village we've built is that it does whatever you tell it to. It's a kinda meritocracy I guess. Anyways, I asked you guys about sex toys recently and you told me in no uncertain terms that we should go there. So, tonight we're launching our "After Dark" range! It's a fun range for fellas and females, designed not just for all you horny beasts out there, but for anyone affected by cancer too. Cancer treatments leave people forever changed and forging a new sexual identity post-treatment can be very challenging. No one talks about it much, and we're proud to do our bit to help destigmatise the issue. Proceeds towards cancer vanquishment. Boom. If you wanna play, or get a pressie for someone you know, the link is in our profile here. Have fun!!! xx Sam Also, heartfelt kudos to the team at Wild Secrets for all the support!

A post shared by LYS (@loveyoursister) on

'For a lot of these women it’s very hard to forge a new sexual identity after treatment. Often you’ve got asshole partners that aren’t really helping things. So it’s not just a message to the ladies to say "hey you know try out something with your partner to try and establish something new" it’s also a message to the blokes, to say ‘Don’t be idiots about this fellas, get around your lady and work out a way forward together!

'At the heart of that campaign is some things women have told me that their men have said to them post-op. I don’t even want to [repeat] what some of these partners have said. I want to do my small bit to say "hey you know, sexy is in here too (points to head), and it’s in here too (points to heart)."

'If you can find someone beautiful at the start, you can find someone beautiful at the beginning and at the end. And maybe that’s a bit simplistic and a bit naive of me. I’m a romantic at heart maybe, but I just feel the least these women deserve post-op is an opportunity to thrive and enjoy their lives again.'

'If you can find someone beautiful at the start, you can find someone beautiful at the beginning and at the end.'

Never ones to hold back, Sam and Connie's candour grew to be a hallmark of Love Your Sister. 'We were never here to sugarcoat it, we were the first charity to say "fuck cancer", we were the first charity to talk about a sexual life post-treatment. You know, first charity to do a lot of things and we’re very proud of the fact that we’re independent. It’s an incredible honour to have bestowed upon you, and I thank Connie and the entire village for that.'

With Connie gone, Sam questioned the future viability of their organisation. 'My fear was that, once we lost our Queen our hive would die. I didn’t think deep down that the people who followed the Love Your Sister page would like me enough on my own without my sister to continue supporting us.' Ultimately, Sam was able to continue engaging with the village, describing it as the 'best surprise of [his] life'. 'We can do this without her because cancer's still such a big issue for our team, for our group, for our village. Connie was just one of many, and till that many is reduced to none we’ll continue'.

'Connie was just one of many, and till that many is reduced to none we’ll continue.'

Last year Love Your Sister achieved their initial goal of  ten million dollars raised for cancer research. However, Sam is adamant that he's only getting warmed up. 'I’m not interested in providing a little bit of research money for our researchers. I’ll spend the rest of my life trying to get better at raising more and more money and with each year I learn more and, if I get lucky and I get another ten or twenty years on this earth, I know that by then the impact will have been significant.'

Evidently Sam and Connie's fundraising efforts were nothing short of extraordinary. In the three years since Connie's death,  Love Your Sister has been maintaining an upward momentum. As Love Your Sister adapts and grows, their focus turns toward their village. Sam and his other sister, Hilde, (the 'alive one' as Sam jokingly calls her), are releasing Heroes Next Door, a book that features stories about 'ordinary people doing extraordinary things in the face of adversity'. 'It reminds us that heroes aren’t in DC and Marvel land and it reminds us that heroes walk past us everyday at the shops without realising, they’re just everywhere you know. I guarantee if you read this book that one of those people will change your life just by reading their story, one of those stories will change the way you do something in life, guaranteed. Because these are the stories we need to pass on! The stories about what to do when the fit hits the shan, you know? [This is about] people who found themselves in that position, who responded in a really inspirational way.'

After years of sharing Connie's cancer journey and hearing those of the Love Your Sister village, Sam has become increasingly drawn to telling real stories. Admittedly however, it seems to be an unavoidable part of his DNA. 'My dad wrote fiction and collected fiction his whole life and had a vast collection... and when [he] was about 50 he abandoned fiction entirely and told me he’d wasted his life on it... you know, we are our parents. I started off with fiction and sure enough I’m moving toward non-fiction.

'All we have are the stories that bind us and we’re the sum total of the stories that make up our human experience. You look at any culture and you can see how important stories are to their fabric. And that’s why I feel kind of honoured to be a storyteller because you know, we’ve gotta pass that shit on.'

'All we have are the stories that bind us and  we’re the sum total of the stories that make up our human experience'

It's fair to say that Sam has an unmistakable talent for connecting with others and sharing their stories. Whether he's acting or fundraising, he has proven himself to be one of Australia's most important storytellers.

Head over to Love Your Sister to purchase merchandise and donate. Show your support and learn more by joining Love Your Sister on Facebook and Instagram.

Tabitha Gyde

Tabby loves puns and pop culture. She also enjoys eating, travelling, and overwatering her plants.