“I don’t know a life without design,” says Dana Donofree, the founder of AnaOno Intimates, a lingerie and loungewear brand. “It has been a part of my soul and my energy since I was old enough to remember.” Donofree’s love of design is so great that when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010, at 27, she married her passion for fashion and her new, post-diagnosis life to found her rapidly growing brand.
Receiving a breast cancer diagnosis one day before her 28th birthday was a shock for Donofree. She spent the next year going through rounds of chemotherapy, undergoing reconstructive surgeries, and taking Herceptin, a monoclonal antibody used to treat HER2-positive breast cancer.
A cancer diagnosis and subsequent treatment can be stressful for anyone, but what was most stressful for Donofree was figuring out how to dress her new body. “When I went through all my reconstruction and my expanders came out, my implants went in, and I expected in that moment to be ‘normal’ again. And I wasn’t,” Donofree says. It was hard for her, for example, to look in the mirror and see a body with no hair, no eyebrows, no nipples, and, as she described them, “odd-shaped structures on my chest that weren’t the things I called boobs.”
Donofree’s first step to understanding and appreciating her changing body was to get a mastectomy tattoo. “I ended up getting a tree of life tattooed around my chest with the lines of a demi bra to […] flatter the lines of my chest so I could feel like I had a sexy shape on my body,” Donofree says. AnaOno was born soon after.
As a young breast cancer warrior, Donofree’s life was radically different than the women she often encountered or learned about while in treatment. “We see breast cancer as our grandmother’s disease, but it isn’t,” she says. “While you guys are talking about your kids and your grandkids, I’m thinking, can I even have kids?”
AnaOno is made for a new type of cancer patient—one like Donofree, one whose life is just getting started. All designers aim to solve a problem in their work. For Donofree, those problems com-pounded against each other. But as a cancer warrior herself, finding her first test model was easy. “I’ve gone through the cancer process, and I knew what parts of that process were the biggest struggles to me. I thought about how I could have made my life easier,” Donofree recalls.
After using herself as a test subject, Donofree tested women from the Young Survival Coalition in Philadelphia, a group for young breast cancer patients she joined after moving to the city. “I would always invite everybody over to my house and [say], ‘Well, we’re going to have wine and cheese, and then I’m going to ask you to try on bras,’” jokes Donofree.
The first group was eclectic, from a woman still in expanders to a friend who’d gotten a single mastectomy to a friend who got a lumpectomy. Although Donofree assumed their vastly different physical experiences would prove to be a design hindrance, the opposite was true. “What ended up happening was [I thought], wow, I actually can help more women because your body is so different than my body, but it works for both of us,” Donofree says.
Since then, AnaOno has expanded to a wide variety of products, including swimwear, sports bras, and bras made for flat-chested women. A loungewear line will drop soon. In 2017, AnaOno participated in a joint New York Fashion Week show with the late Champagne Joy, creator of #Cancerland, to viral success.
As AnaOno the brand continues to expand, Donofree (10 years into her own breast cancer journey) continues to grow and change as well. Carrying the weight of cancer for 10 years has been heavy for the designer. She admits to occasionally feeling jealous of other people that have gotten cancer and then moved on. Throughout the years, she has lost numerous friends, more than most people her age. But despite it all, she still feels gratitude for the life she’s lived and the work she’s done.
“I can look at the last 10 years of my life and see what has changed and what impact I’ve had and the work I’ve been able to do,” Donofree begins. “I don’t necessarily peer down the road for 20 years thinking about the day I’ll retire […] If I don’t love what I’m doing every minute now, then it doesn’t really count and it’s not worth it. I have to live now.”