"It's a version of my name, Dana Donofree," the founder and designer of AnaOno Intimates, a new line of lingerie for breast cancer survivors, tells me on the phone. "We went through a lot of names for the line. But then, a very funny college roommate of mine, who I love, said, 'Call it AnaOno, because it's like you lost your double Ds.' It's brilliant."
The name is brilliant, and it's most likely Donofree's ability to find humor in that kind of candor that carried her through her most difficult times. At age 28, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. The news came as a shock to Donofree who, like most 20-somethings, hadn't really considered the possibility.
"When I discovered it, it was a total freak accident. I'd had a breast exam in December, and no one felt anything," Donofree adds. "In January, I was checking a pimple in my armpit. Haphazardly, my wrist brushed across a bump in my breast tissue.”
What came next was a crisis that no 28-year-old (or anyone, really) should have to face, especially considering it happened just two months before her wedding day. Unfortunately, those plans had to be put on hold so Donofree could start her treatment.
Dana Donofree after her breast cancer diagnosis and reconstruction.
Quickly after her diagnosis, Donofree had a double mastectomy with reconstruction, a process that didn't come without its challenges. After the mastectomy, expanders were put into her chest to prepare her body for the reconstruction. It took about four weeks for those surgeries to heal, after which she was presented with a difficult course of chemotherapy. Donofree crashed twice during her treatment, meaning that her platelets dropped so low that she had to have several blood transfusions.
"Some people go through surgery and treatment with no issues," Donofree explains. "And some people go through with every issue in the book."
Shopping for bras post-surgery was incredibly frustrating for Donofree, and that frustration was the impetus for AnaOno Intimates, headquartered near her home in Philadelphia. She has a background in fashion design and pattern making, and began her business by deducing the reasons why women in her situation have such a hard time finding lingerie.
"For me, I thought about my reconstruction as a boob job," Donofree says. "But it was nothing close to that. I had the expectation that I would just go back to my life as normal, but that wasn’t going to happen. When it came to bras not fitting, I realized that the biggest problem was the underwire," Donofree tells me. "Five years ago when I was diagnosed, the underwire was popular. They’re meant
for a purpose, to give breasts support, and shape. When we get surgery, we get built-in support. Some people also lose a lot of their feeling [around the breast], so if the underwire is
uncomfortable, you don’t feel it. Doctors tend to not recommend underwires for mastectomy and lumpectomy patients."
But without underwires, the current lingerie market was a vast expanse of sports bras and camisoles. While many choose those options for comfort, Donofree felt that there should be sexier, more playful bras available for those who didn't want to completely leave their former lingerie preferences behind.
"The response I was hearing was, 'You don’t have to wear a bra at all,'"Donofree says. "But I was like, 'I want to, it’s part of my wardrobe. Just because you don’t need it doesn’t mean you don’t want it.'"
Donofree's earliest designs for AnaOno Intimates were geared towards herself and other survivors who'd had reconstruction. Quickly after she started, though, she realized that just as each breast cancer diagnosis and treatment is unique, so too are the lingerie needs of each woman.
The Rachel bra, designed for bilateral reconstructions with implants, as well as unilateral reconstructions.
"I launched it with the reconstructed woman in mind," she says. "As I was exposed to more women, I realized that it didn’t stop there. For instance, a woman with a lumpectomy, who has a scar in a sensitive area — she also needs a bra that feels comfortable. I was also meeting a lot of women who got mastectomies who didn’t want a reconstruction or prosthetic, but it didn’t mean they didn’t want to wear lingerie. So that’s when I started trying my product on different body types and surgery types."
Today, the AnaOno Intimates collection is comprised of five styles of bra, each of which caters to specific post-operative needs. They range in size S to XXL at a reasonable price point of about $32 to $58. Five percent of all AnaOno proceeds go to breast cancer foundations each year, including Jill's Wish and Living Beyond Breast Cancer. Donofree also has plans to expand the line as quickly as she can, creating a pocketed bra for women who wear breast forms, as well as extending the range to accommodate more plus sizes. For Donofree, the most important aspect of her collection is that it intentionally connects with real survivors at each stage of the process.
The Kelly wireless pullover bra, designed for mastectomies with no reconstruction, LAT, TRAM, DIEP Flaps, mastectomies with full reconstruction, unilateral and bilateral mastectomies, and lumpectomies.
"I design everything myself, and do all of the fitting on real survivors," she says. "On the website, all the women modeling the products are survivors. That’s really important for me, because that’s who the product is for. For me it's important that women know and trust that their bras are coming specifically for them."
In addition to the launch of her collection, the now 33-year-old Donofree recently celebrated another major landmark: Her body hasn't shown any evidence of cancer for the last five years. What she's accomplished during that time has made a profound impact on her own life, and the lives of other women going through the same thing. For Donofree, though, the goal wasn't to inspire or move people: It was simply to help women facing the same challenges that she was.
"Shopping for intimate apparel after these surgeries is hell," she says. "You have to do so much guesswork just to find one that fits you. I wanted to help take that guess work out of the equation."
Images: Courtesy Tracy Birdsell; Courtesy Nikki Riley; anaonointimates/Instagram