We Spoke To The Woman Making Breast Cancer Survivors Feel Sexy & Powerful Through New Lingerie Brand

AnaOno Intimates

While the lingerie industry has come a long way in terms of accounting for size diversity, one area of inclusion is still lacking: lingerie for breast cancer survivors. 

AnaOno Intimates founder Dana Donofree is striving to break the mold in the industry one bra at a time with lingerie that's specifically designed to make those affected by breast cancer feel empowered and confident. 

The brand was launched in 2014 after Donofree’s own cancer treatment had completely transformed her relationship with her body and diminished her self-confidence.

Each item in AnaOno’s diverse collections is carefully designed for women of all body types whether they have no breasts, one breast, fake breasts, or natural breasts. The range of bras, briefs, camis, lingerie, and loungewear has something for everyone whether you want to show off your scars or cover up with style. 

AnaOno’s latest collection, Underneath, has been an opportunity for Donofree to reconnect with why she launched the brand in the first place — to help women feel sexy again after their cancer diagnosis. 

Dana Donofree chatted exclusively with YourTango about her own personal journey with breast cancer, how the brand came to be, and her upcoming collection that is aiming to help those dealing with cancer redefine what it means to be sexy. 

Donofree’s own journey from cancer survivor to AnaOno founder is a story of triumph over adversity. 

When her career in the fashion industry was sidetracked by a cancer diagnosis in her 20s, her life completely changed. But not only did Donofree transform these difficult years into a newfound purpose and career focus, but she is also paving the way for a more confidence-filled cancer journey for other women. 

Read on to learn more about Dana Donofree and how she’s using AnaOno to teach women to feel confident and sexy no matter their body type.

YT: Tell us a little bit about your personal cancer journey. What changes did your body go through? Did this impact your relationship with clothes and lingerie? 

When I was diagnosed at 27, my cancer was aggressive and so was my treatment. I needed to remove both breasts to ensure a healthy outcome, and in doing so, I expected my body to change and my breasts to change, but I was never really quite prepared for looking at my mastectomy scars and my nipple-less breasts every morning I looked in the mirror. I wanted to feel strong and empowered, but I felt anything but those things. The scars were a constant reminder that I had to amputate my breasts in order to save my life. It was a constant reminder of what once was, breasts that were not missing nipples. Instead, they were just these round shapes attached to my chest. They felt foreign to me. 

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YT: How did your diagnosis and treatment impact your self-confidence?

DD: I had a complete disassociation with my body. And then came the underwear drawer. I was diagnosed just months before my planned wedding, so after a year of treatment and multiple surgeries, I dug out all those beautiful — and sexy —  lingerie pieces I was gifted right before my diagnosis, and nothing fit me. I threw it all away, the intimate pieces I was supposed to wear on my honeymoon, and even all my beautiful bras in my underwear drawer.

I was never prepared for the fact that nothing would fit me after surgery. I was only wearing sports bras and layering camisoles. I didn't feel sexy, so I couldn't bear the thought of intimacy with my partner. I knew it was about me, but I was missing the tools in my tool kit to climb out of that sadness and depression; I just wanted to feel like me. I wanted nothing more than to feel beautiful.

YT: What role does feeling sexy play in women's confidence? Do you think feeling more sexy and confident allowed you to recover from the psychological impacts of cancer? 

DD: Feeling sexy is something we often feel ashamed or embarrassed about, but we shouldn't. Sexy is something we think is not as attainable to us average folks and is just something we see in a magazine. But after losing my breasts to cancer, all I wanted was to feel sexy. I wanted to be seen as sexy and I wanted to feel it, something I never really thought about before because I was down to the bare minimums.

I had no hair, no eyebrows, no eyelashes, and no breasts. It made me want something I felt I couldn't have. That's when the idea of AnaOno really hit me. If I didn't feel sexy, and couldn't feel sexy in a sports bra, I was going to make one that did give that sexiness back to me. I swore cancer wasn't going to rip that away from me as well!. 

YT: How did the idea for AnaOno come to fruition? What were mainstream or “normal” clothing brands missing for you after your treatment?

DD: After surgery, nothing fit right anymore. Not my cute tank tops. Not my sundresses. Not my flirty tees. And certainly not my bras, my wonderful, colorful, lacy, pretty vast collection of bras and lingerie. Every trip to the boutique or mall was one that ended in exasperation and defeat. My doctor shrugged and said I could wear a sports bra. A sports bra? Those were reserved for my runs or bike rides. Not at work under a button-down and certainly not on a date. I started designing for myself and as I met more and more breast cancer patients, I realized this wasn't a problem only I was facing, it was one we all were facing, so I knew I needed to bring my designs to a space where others could get them, too. I drew up a plan, created a small line of lingerie, and AnaOno Intimates was born.

RELATED: How My Girlfriend's Mastectomy Changed The Way I Love Her

YT: What role do customer feedback and personal stories play in designing new products? Have you heard any inspiring or moving responses from customers?

DD: I will never forget one of the first emails I received when I launched AnaOno nearly 7 years ago. It was from a survivor that had lost both of her breasts during the reconstruction process and was living flat. She sent me an email about how special it would be to have a sexy black lace bra that clasped in the back so her partner could take it off during their intimate moments. This really hit home to me, I realized at that moment, we are not our breasts, we are so much more than that, and with this little act of affection, we can be transformed.

I took that feedback and carry it with me to this day. It doesn't matter if we are one-breasted, two-breasted, or have no breasts at all. If you want to feel sexy, you deserve to feel really sexy. I'm always listening to feedback from customers, sharing positive emails and reviews with the AnaOno team, and encouraging my staff to make each and every customer feel like family.

We are constantly seeking out feedback from customers whether it's through formal surveys, question boxes on social media stories, or through customer service emails. This feedback is such an integral part of evolving and pushing AnaOno forward.

YT: What inspired the Underneath line specifically? How important is feeling sexy to AnaOno customers? 

DD: Underneath is AnaOno coming ful- circle. The first bra I designed was a sexy lace bra because it was my biggest desire to wear something feminine and sexy that empowered me to feel confident. Since the launch of our first collection in 2014, we've come so far supporting cancer patients through all phases of their treatments, from surgery recovery, oncology, and beyond. It was time to push through that bedroom door and bring sexy back again. 

I love the feedback we get from our customers as well. I had a lovely older woman tell me she was waiting for a nightie that was pocketed so she could wear her breast forms during intimate moments. I thought of my flat friends that can't bear the thought of showing their scars, and I thought about us nipple-less babes.

Wearing something that you feel good in is about you first. I knew if I didn't love myself, how could I let others love me? So it started with what makes me feel sexy first, and loving that extra feminine touches just adds to those secretive-sexy moments in our lives. 

YT: What are your future goals for AnaOno?

DD: I'm so honored to get to carry out not only my dream of having my own fashion company but also serving such an incredible community with my designs. It's so rewarding and I'm so thankful I get to use my talents in this way. 

However, we all know breast cancer has continued to afflict many lives, not just families here in the US, but all around the world. We get emails from other patients in other countries asking us when we are going to be available for them as they face the same challenges I did when I created the line 10 years ago. I hope we get the chance to really go global! 

It's so important to have access to the little things that really do impact your healing and recovery along the way, and we won't quit until we do. 

Our motto is Never Alone, and that's why I work so hard to ensure that any patient diagnosed with breast cancer never feels that feeling because I know what it felt like to be isolated at 27 years old with breast cancer. If we can break down the international barriers, we can help 100s of 1000s more women!

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Alice Kelly is a writer living in Brooklyn, New York. She is a generalist with an interest in lifestyle, entertainment, and trending topics.