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How I Triumphed Over Breast Cancer

photo of woman standing by waterfall
September 17, 2021

By Dana Donofree

Cancer changes a lot of things. But I never expected it would affect my underwear drawer.

The three dreaded words, “You have cancer,” came screaming at me through my cell phone while I was shopping for my honeymoon with my Mom and future mother-in-law. I was a day away from turning 28, life was good. I felt healthy. I had a great career. I was engaged. I was in my hometown in Ohio celebrating my bridal shower with my best friends and wonderful family, and then the world came crashing down around me.

Through the tears, I was able to pull myself together and phone my fiancé, who was home in Colorado, to let him know my worst fear had materialized. I had breast cancer. There was nothing but silence. Neither of us had words. Neither of us had ever faced something that scary in our entire lives.

I never expected that little lump in my armpit, that I accidentally found while in the shower, to be breast cancer. I was 27 years old, in the best shape of my life, and no family history strong enough to raise concerns. But there I was, a young woman with an aggressive HER2+ ER+ breast cancer that sent me into a bilateral mastectomy, 6 rounds of chemotherapy, a year of targeted therapy, and 8 1/2 years on hormone suppression drugs.

I was as mentally prepared as I could have been for my breast removal surgery, hair loss from chemotherapy, and menopause at the age of 28 (which meant children were out of the conversation). All of these events had some textbook standard information provided. You lose your hair, you get a wig. You deal with hot flashes, you learn to dress in layers. You amputate your breasts, you get a mastectomy bra. But nothing was ever that simple.

All of these drastic changes came fast, and they came hard. The hardest for me was looking at my nippleless body and seeing the mastectomy scars across my newly reconstructed breasts that had zero feeling. My new body didn’t fit into my clothes, let alone all those beautiful intimates I received at my bridal shower just days after my diagnosis. I didn’t know where to turn to reaffirm my identity, not just as a woman, but as ME.

Every dressing room I went into, I left in tears. I felt the world had forgotten us. I felt like I was being told just how broken I was fitting after fitting, from avoiding underwires and only wearing sport bras, to boutiques that introduced the “mastectomy bra” oftentimes in a neutral beige jacquard material that was less than attractive. It left me feeling lost, incomplete, and less of a woman than where I started.

And then one night, I had a hot flash so horrific it jolted me out of bed. It was a calling, one that told me to DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT! And I did! I figured, how many young women diagnosed with breast cancer just “happened” to have been a fashion designer their entire lives? (I was making my first outfits when I was 8!) And how many of them were crazy enough to actually start a business? I determined that I would design intimates for those of us with breast cancer -- and that they would be not only beautiful, but comfortable too. It would be the start of creating something beautiful out of all this destruction. That’s how my company, AnaOno, was born. We offer intimates designed differently, because we are -- and different is beautiful.

Breast cancer changes you. But you don’t have to feel broken. You don’t have to feel less than. You don’t have to lose your femininity, identity, and energy because you can no longer express yourself in the same way you did before cancer. You are not alone.

Dana DonofreeDana Donofree founded AnaOno out of her own necessity and desire for not only beautiful, but comfortable lingerie after her cancer diagnosis in 2010. With a degree in fashion design from Savannah College of Art and Design, and a successful industry career, she took her experience and applied it toward launching AnaOno, Intimates designed differently. Dana’s story has been featured in USA Today, on The Today Show, and in The New York Times, and many others. You can find her on Instagram at @DaynaDono and @AnaOnoIntimates and on Facebook at AnaOno Intimates and Dana Donofree.

 

 

To connect with other breast cancer survivors, join our Breast Cancer Facebook Support Group.

 

Photo Credit: jacoblund/iStock via Getty Images

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