Growing up by Sydney’s beaches, Ronelle Knowles remembers summers by the water, playing with her numerous siblings in local parks, and dreading soggy Weetbix for breakfast. A proud woman, Ronelle has always counted on herself to get things done. However, since being diagnosed with breast cancer last year, she has found strength in accepting help from friends, family, and community.
What is your name?
Where were you born, on what date and in what year?
I was born [in] 1971.
Describe the place you spent your childhood.
I grew up in Randwick; a couple of kilometres from Coogee Beach. We spent all our summers walking to the beach, swimming, walking to Clovelly, swimming in the pool, across the bay, and going to the park with our brothers and sisters. There are a lot of us, too. [It’s a] really nice area. Really rich now, but back then, it was just kind of normal.
Describe a sensory memory from your childhood (favourite meal, most memorable smell as a child).
Okay, so I can't stand the smell of Weetbix – [especially] soggy Weetbix. That's all we had, Weetbix and Wheaties, and I hated it - we couldn't afford anything else. You got more in the box, you know what I mean? So, to this day, I can't eat Weetbix and I can't stand the smell of it. Although, my children love it *laughs*.
Where do you live now?
I live in Belmore South.
Does it feel like home?
Yes, and it feels like home because the way [our] house is set up is similar to the house I grew up in. There are a few similarities, so I walk around the house like “oh, it feels like home!”
What dreams do you have for your future?
My biggest dream is to extend the house - I've got four kids. As they get older, and as we get older, we're probably going to need a bit more space. But just enough to be comfortable - not like a mansion or anything.
What does strength mean to you?
Strength means you draw upon your reserves. Without depleting yourself, without running out of resilience. So, I've had a very challenging year, but I've had to be strong for my children; not fall apart for my children. [I’ve had to] try and stay positive, which I find easy to do. But when you’re diagnosed with breast cancer, your whole life flashes before your eyes. So, I think strength is also the ability to ask for help, which I actually had to do this year. [That] was very, very challenging.
What is the most difficult thing you've had to overcome?
Well, having breast cancer, and having a double mastectomy with a reconstruction - they basically had to remove my breasts and take fat and tissue from my body and move it. That was really massive, I'm covered in scars, and my body doesn't look like it used to. There’s [been] lots of changes that I had no control over, and you just have to go “right, well that's my new body, that's what it looks like, and I just have to cope with that.” Luckily, my husband is okay with all of that.
How did you turn that into a personal strength?
I had support from the community. My kids [are in] the Scouts, and one of the scout leaders made dinners for my family. She would deliver a week’s worth of meals, and she did that for 3 weeks. And for me, it’s very hard to ask for help. I'm always [like] “I’ll do it! I'll do it myself! I don't trust it when other people do it - it's gotta be done by me!” So, for me, asking for help and, even more so, accepting what's offered, has been a challenge. I had a friend say “I'll come and clean your house every week, for a month.” And [for] me, that's difficult.
You know I have a lot of pride, in things, so sometimes it's very hard to accept help. And it's probably even harder to ask for help - having to make phone calls, and say “I need this. I need that. Can you bring this over? Can you take my daughter somewhere?” So, I think that, for me, was very hard because I'm so fiercely independent and capable, and I've always been the one that you can rely on to help others. For me, having to ask and accept help was very, very challenging. Massively *laughs*.
What does freedom mean to you?
Freedom is living in Australia - that's what freedom means. It means we are free to walk down the street; we're free to mix with our neighbours - doesn't matter what background they're from. It means I can be friends with a Muslim even if I'm an atheist, you know what I mean? My family are mostly Catholics, but I don't share their beliefs. I respect their beliefs, and I'm in a country where you don't get put in jail for having different beliefs. Freedom is about being able to vote - it's about having an education and health, and not worrying [that] the things you say that might put you in jail. Whereas in other countries, they don't have that freedom. So, for me, Australia represents almost everything about freedom. [The] freedom to work - I work, my husband works from home, but I'm the main worker. I earn more money, and I pay the bills, and I pay the mortgage, and that's freedom. We don't have to follow this rule where the man works all day and the woman is at home caring for children.
Edits by Naveen Krishnasamy
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