He was the smiling fresh-faced singer rolling up to the sunny shores of Home And Away's Summer Bay. His impression was quick, bright, filled with the hopeful spirit of a 20-something, finding their feet in the limelight.
But for Johnny Ruffo, ahead lay a devastating journey he couldn't have guessed in a million years.
Yet still - he kept smiling.
Johnny, who first rose to fame as a finalist on the 2011 season of The X Factor, had seen three successful years as the lovable larrikin Chris on Home And Away, with his final scene airing in 2016.
He had everything ahead of him - his singing career was set to continue as his time on screen continued to soar with other gigs in the pipeline.
But in 2017, everything changed.
The then 29-year-old was diagnosed with brain cancer after doctors discovered a seven-centimetre tumour that had grown over a frontal lobe in his brain.
Speaking to The Project just two months after the shock diagnosis, Johnny revealed: "Anything that may have been a symptom, I just put down to normal life. Headaches - I played sports and copped a million and one knocks in the head."
But luckily, his girlfriend Tahnee Sims encouraged him to do more tests at the time.
"My sentences were not making any sense. My words were jumbled up. It became alarming to [my girlfriend]. She said maybe we should go to the emergency department."
It was incredibly lucky that she urged him to do so, because what came next were the words Johnny never expected to hear.
"The surgeon said if I hadn't gone to the hospital that night I would have died in my sleep that night. It is just sheer luck that I went in when I did and everything happened the way it did otherwise I wouldn't be here," he explained during The Project's interview.
The following day, Johnny had surgery - an eight hour ordeal to remove the tumour.
"They knew it was a tumour," he said.
"They could only remove 95 percent of it due to where it was positioned, close to the nerve endings, I believe."
For the remaining five per cent, intense radio therapy and chemotherapy began.
Finally in 2019, two years after his initial diagnosis, Johnny revealed he was clear of cancer.
Sharing two side-by-side images of his brain, he wrote: "Exactly two years ago versus today, So glad to have beaten this horrible disease. Thank you for all the support!"
His girlfriend Tahnee was quick to also share her excitement in her partner getting the all-clear: "Love you to the moon and halfway back so pleased you've beaten this bastard! Must nearly be footy team dinner time."
For just over a year, Johnny was blissfully cancer-free.
During that time, he spoke to Now To Love about the daunting reality of battling cancer.
"It's important to stay positive," Johnny told us at the time.
"That's a lot harder than it actually sounds, but for me it's just trying to stay positive. You can try to set yourself little goals. I used to do that to get through the week."
He added that his girlfriend Tahnee was his rock throughout the whole ordeal.
"Without her I may not be here," he said.
"She was the one who made me get in the car when it first happened. And she's encouraging me to do things. She keeps me active, getting me to go for runs and swims."
Little more than a month after we'd spoken to Johnny, he shared news that made our hearts drop. His cancer had returned.
"After an unexpected week of seizures and excruciating headaches it is with a heavy heart that i have to let you know i now have another huge battle ahead of me as my brain cancer has returned."
But still, the bright star shared a message of hope: "Though i will dig deep and beat this sh-t disease again 👊🏽💜 #fckcancer"
In December, Tahnee shared another update as Johnny received chemotherapy.
"Not what we had planned for our Christmas Eve Eve this year but still smiling through it all & feeling as grateful as ever."
She then wrote a personal message to her boyfriend: "You can move mountains. #f--kcancer."
Johnny also added his own spin, again, with his beautiful fighting spirit front of mind.
"Ding, Ding 🔔 Round 2, Fight!! 🥊Let's do this! #f--kcancer," he wrote.
In May 2021, the couple shared more updates about the 33-year-old's second battle, with the former Home And Away star telling fans he was continuing to "fight to the good fight."
Tahnee also added her own message of support for her boyfriend back in May.
"Forever proud," she wrote alongside a picture of Johnny at hospital.
WATCH BELOW: Johnny Ruffo talks about his cancer battle on The Project:
As their turbulent, heartbreaking journey continues, one thing is for sure: Johnny is a true battler and an inspiration to many.
With Tahnee by his side, they will continue to fight the good fight together.
- PuzzlesThe Australian Women's Weekly Puzzle Book Issue 71
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