Inspiring courage: Cancer survivor and public practitioner

Anna Ronald CPA with her daughter.

Anna Ronald CPA combines her experience as a cancer survivor and her expertise as a public practitioner to support young women with breast cancer.

By Katie Langmore

There is a particular passion that a person brings to voluntary work when the cause is close to their heart. That is certainly the case for Anna Ronald CPA and many of the women who work with So Brave, Australia’s only charity specifically supporting young women with breast cancer.

Ronald was diagnosed with breast cancer seven years ago, when she was just 34. “It was such a shock. I remember looking around me in the [oncology] waiting room, and everyone else was over 60,” says the public practitioner, who at the time worked with Cricket Australia as financial accountant.

Navigating the system, finding answers to her questions and rushing into a cycle of IVF – before the cancer treatment affected her fertility – were tough, says Ronald. Now, having beaten the cancer, she is determined to help others on the same journey.

“I’m quite a private person, and it took me six years to get to the point of reaching out to an organisation, but I know that if I can make a difference, then it’s definitely the right time to share my experience and use it for the benefit of others.”

Ronald approached So Brave last year, with the idea of providing some pro bono accounting support. “So Brave already had pro bono bookkeeping support in place; however, the board was lacking a director with an accounting background. I joined the board as treasurer in October last year.”

The timing couldn’t have been better, as Ronald has steered the organisation’s finances through the pandemic. “It’s been tough, as a lot of funding comes from events and fundraising,” she reveals, adding that the organisation could definitely do with some corporate sponsorship or funding this year.

CPA Australia resource: Tools, templates and resources to support you when performing voluntary or pro bono accounting services

“One of our biggest fundraisers is the beautiful calendar we put out each year,” Ronald. says. The annual calendar includes photos of the organisation’s “model ambassadors” – young survivors of breast cancer – who have been artistically covered in body paint.

“When you are diagnosed with cancer, your body becomes very medicalised, from the port-a-cath some have implanted for chemotherapy, to surgery,” says Ronald, who decided to have a double mastectomy following her diagnosis, “so the body paint is like a celebration of finishing treatment, and of their bodies, and all they’ve been through.”

The model ambassadors also play a crucial role going out into communities to raise awareness. “They might speak, or have a stall at a corporate event, and they also go into schools and educate girls about the need for body awareness,” explains Ronald.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, So Brave saw the real need for connection, shared education and self-advocacy in the next generation of young women. With this in mind, the charity has formed Brave|You, a Young Women’s Advisory Committee engaging directly with young women aged 15–25 in the community, at high school and university.

“We’re also working towards a medical advisory committee, which would ideally contain members of different medical professions – whether that’s oncologists, GPs, surgeons, nurses – who are involved with breast cancer patients through their journey,” Ronald says. “This committee could raise awareness within the medical community about the needs and barriers facing young women in getting a diagnosis and going through treatment.”

When a young woman is diagnosed with breast cancer, her experiences may not be any worse than an older woman’s, but they may be different – including the impact on fertility – says Ronald, who now has a three-year-old daughter. “We feel it’s crucial we’re here, providing support, connection and information for young women going through this journey.”

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month.

Australia’s only young women’s breast cancer charity, So Brave, was founded in 2017 by Rachelle Panitz, who was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 32, having just given birth to her son and already a mother to a three-year-old daughter. The organisation aims to educate and engage communities, as well as support, connect and empower young women with breast cancer.

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