“The best part is reminding people to celebrate themselves,” says Whitney O’Connor, founder of the whimsical warrior and thriver brand Boobie Crowns. But Boobie Crowns, which crafts colorful and sparkly crown-like accessories made out of bras, is more than just a way to cheer people up. For O’Connor, who is the OG Boobie Queen, creating the brand was also a way to process her own two breast cancer diagnoses.
Six weeks after her wedding and one week after turning 30, O’Connor was diagnosed with stage III HER2-positive breast cancer after a lump was found during a routine annual exam. “It was just a really big shock. I do and eat the right thing, I would say, 70 percent of the time,” O’Connor says. She immediately began treatment which included chemotherapy and a double mastectomy, but not radiation.
Through genetic testing, O’Connor learned she had a rare condition called Li-Fraumeni syndrome. Only 400 families are documented to have the condition. “We did a lot of digging. A lot of ancestry.com and figuring out family trends,” recalls O’Connor. “The doctors couldn’t understand why I got it so young and [breast cancer] didn’t run in my family, but soft tissue sarcomas did.” Years earlier, for example, O’Connor’s father passed away from glioblastoma, a soft tissue sarcoma.
“Li–Fraumeni, the punchline is each cell makes copies of itself over time. Well, my copy machine doesn’t function properly, so that copy machine that detects ‘this is a bad cell’ and ‘this is a good cell,’ my body struggles with telling the difference. So bad cells continue to do bad things and one of those is cancer,” O’Connor says. Receiving radiation would make her even more likely to develop an additional form of cancer down the line, so she opted for target hormone therapy.
As a teen, O’Connor went through puberty early. “I had a lot of things going for me that a lot of my friends did not, and one of those was boobs,” recalls O’Connor. While preparing for a beach trip one year, a friend picked up her bra, shocked by its size. “She’s like, ‘Oh my God. You’re like the queen. The queen of boobs,’” says O’Connor. Since then, her nickname has been “The Boobie Queen.” Years later when creating her brand and after her breast cancer diagnosis, the name stuck. “It was really ironic. Kind of comical that that became a new evolution of that name.”
Prior to her first diagnosis (O’Connor was diagnosed with breast cancer again in December 2019), her friends often made her crowns for events like birthdays and bachelorette parties. After her diagnosis, her friends organized a walk where her crew all wore decorated “boobie crowns.” Their silly accessory for a good cause drew interest from other attendees and soon, the brand was born. “I’m definitely not the only Boobie Queen out there and I’m really shocked no one else came up with this idea,” says O’Connor. “Let’s see if we can figure this out and give everybody crowns. I’ve always had the creative gene, I guess, and laughter to me is the best medicine.”
The Boobies Crown team is comprised of O’Connor, her husband and her mother. Her long-term goal is to get the crowns manufactured at a larger scale to account for a higher demand. “When I get a video or I get a picture of somebody opening it up and putting it on, it’s just so much fun that this is my job,” O’Connor says.
After several trials to understand the design and construction of the crowns, O’Connor says it now takes about an hour and a half to make a singular crown. “I didn’t want it to look like a craft that you just did. I really wanted it to look regal and royal,” she says.
Currently, Boobie Crowns operates as a one-for-one business. Customers can purchase a crown for a loved one and O’Connor donates an additional crown to someone who does not have as much support. After many days spent in treatment in the hospital, she realized many warriors are without the sort of unwavering support she gratefully had during her own treatment. “I was trying to figure my place in that,” says O’Connor.
Since launching Boobie Crowns, O’Connor has donated more than 120 crowns, usually through oncology nurses. “We spend so much time fighting this fight that we forget to celebrate and forget to embrace the right now,” adds O’Connor. “The whole idea is to remind women of the queens they are and how special they are and to celebrate.”
As for the future, O’Connor says Boobie Crowns are just the beginning. She is currently in the process of turning the company into a nonprofit with plans to launch a number of programs. “Adopt a Queen” will be similar to the Make-A-Wish foundation where supporters can adopt a queen that lacks support. She’s also interested in awareness programs around genetic testing. With a background in mental health and time working in crisis stabilization facilities, O’Connor says she “never thought this avenue would be” her journey.
“I could get cancer next year again and start this whole treatment crap all over again and so for me, it’s like how can we celebrate this crappy, crappy, hard, hard thing with grace and laughter,” she adds. “And with underwear on your head.”
To learn more about Whitney O’Connor and Boobie Crowns and to purchase a crown for yourself or someone else, visit boobiecrowns.com.