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Dana Donofree

Dana Donofree

Diagnosed with Infiltrative Ductal Carcinoma, an aggressive form of breast cancer, at 27, Dana Donofree founded AnaOno out of her own necessity and desire for pretty, sexy, beautiful lingerie. After a bilateral mastectomy with implant reconstruction, her own bras no longer fit, and she was certain there must be better options. After discovering her beautiful and functional bras following my explant surgery, I had the pleasure of becoming friends with Dana from across the country. Finally, in December in New York City, I had the pleasure to meet Dana and Ana Ono employee, Alison Hinch, to discuss life after breast cancer, mastectomies, personal growth and embodiment after illness and trauma. Dana frankly shares about breast cancer and her last cut, her decision to get a mastectomy tattoo years ago before it was popular to do so. Her choice was a powerful reclaiming of self after all she had been through at a young age. I love Dana’s honesty and honor all she does for this community. For more information on Dana and her gorgeous lingerie and loungewear, please visit anaono.com and @anaonointimates on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

SAMANTHA: I’m here with Dana Donofree of Ana Ono Intimates and Alison Hinch. So excited to be here in New York with you. It is really such a gift to be ending this profound year meeting these incredible people that I’ve been communicating with throughout the year and receiving so much love and support from. Here we are meeting in person, and it is pretty amazing. We’ve known each other now for close to a year via to the interwebs.

DANA: "It’s everything I thought it would be."

So, Dana why don’t you start and tell everyone about you. I’ve been screaming your praises on Last Cut throughout the year, but not everyone knows what you are up to. So, why don’t you tell us a little about who you are and a little about your story and what you do and then we can go into the questions and chat about other stuff? 

"What I do is that I run my own business. I am an artist and a creator. Unfortunately, a diagnosis at the age of 27, which I lost both of my breasts to, ended up sending me in the direction of my dream and my dream was to own my own fashion business. So, I have since launched Ana Ono after my bout with breast cancer, and we make intimate apparel for women whose bodies have been altered because of the disease. I say, "One breast, no breasts or new breasts, we’ve got it for you." That’s my pitch." 

That’s amazing. And real breasts.

"Yes, and real breasts. No matter what you have, any alternative. I just want women to feel comfortable in their own skin. I think that is important and I didn’t even know it was important to me until I lost it. It’s an opportunity to encourage us all to feel proud of ourselves and not try to fit into the pretty little box that everyone wants us to fit in." 

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You are incredible. I have been so grateful for the beautiful creations that you make. Days after my surgery, it was such an incredible surprise to come across your website and to see that there was something out there for women who are flat chested who don’t want to go without anything. I remember that same week I had ordered a little bralette from another company and was so surprised that something that looked as if it would work on a flat chest was absolutely wrong in all of the right places. Wrong in ways that made it unwearable. So, finding your company was such a treat. I wear them every day. I wear them to workout and all the time. And then finding you has been such a treat. 

"So, I don’t want to say that I tripped into it. But when I started designing the lingerie, I started designing for women who had reconstruction and I was mostly thinking of women with bilateral reconstruction. I wasn’t sure of all the roadblocks at that point in time. What happened was that I was actually asking women whose bodies had been affected by the disease to come to my studio and try on all of my prototypes, which mean I had women with lumpectomies, with one breast, with one side with mastectomy, with reconstruction, without reconstruction. Just as I was asking people to come over, I started putting the bras on my friend that had no breasts, or my friend that had one breast, and my friend that was using forms and my friend that wasn’t using forms and I found that, "Oh my gosh! This is working! This is actually literally working." Not to say that the other companies don’t do that, but I test everything on women’s bodies that I am meant to dress. It only makes sense. So, I think that that has really helped me to not only see all of our different forms and shapes and aftermaths from surgery, because I’ve seen them all, the good, the bad and the really bad, and you know, women want that comfort. It is us that have to look in the mirror every day and feel good about ourselves. So, you do what makes yourself feel good and that’s all that matters." 

And I think, as I said, "I don’t need to wear anything. I don’t need the “support.”" But there is something about that comfort. Something that makes you feel beautiful and also something that fits well and makes you feel comfortable in your own skin as you get dressed and head out into the world. I think, in hearing how you tested everything, it is incredible that you have built such a community of women, as well. I think that probably has been an incredible gift to you as you have gone through your own journey but then also, I know how much you enjoy giving back. You are providing this product that is meeting people’s needs.

Did you ladies know each other before? {gestures to Alison}

"No, actually. Alison came to one of my big casting calls for our last photo shoot, actually. A year ago."

ALISON: "Yes, last November. I had responded to something else you were doing before that, in North Carolina, and I couldn’t make it there, but we just talked a lot and corresponded about different things. And then we had the shoot, and that’s when I first actually tried on one of the bras. Before that, I just wasn’t wearing anything. I thought, "I need something," but I didn’t find anything that really worked. Working from home, it didn’t really matter so much, so I just wore things when I needed to. Now that I have the Ana Ono bras, I wear them all the time, even when I am home, because it is very comforting to have that thing that you were so used to before. Even better than before, because you actually want to keep it on. You don’t want to take it off! I’ve texted you {Dana} before, saying that I think I’ve had this bra on for three days straight and I probably should shower and I probably should wash the bra in the shower with me. {laughs} 

And my daughter wears them. She’s 11. I figured that they work for women who are getting their chest expanded, and her chest is expanding at 11. This is perfect. I remember when I was a kid being so worried about wearing my bra because kids would poke fun at you or whatever, because they are jerks, and she doesn’t care. It has not phased her one bit and I think it is because it is not uncomfortable. She wore a “regular” one one day and she was like, “I don’t like this. I’m not wearing these any more. We might as well throw them all out. Don’t get me anything but the Ana Ono ones.” I was like, “ok.”"

DANA:  "Expensive little girl! She’s got good taste!"

ALISON: "She’s a customer for life!"

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DANA: "It’s true. So, I think just being able to see women that surface through this. You know, one of my proudest moments was a woman in North Carolina who really wanted to get reconstruction. She was really not feeling whole and that piece to her was a piece that was missing and all of her doctors had told her that she couldn’t have it for one reason or another. She wrote to me and she said, “I don’t know what I am supposed to do. What am I supposed to do with myself?” So, I said, “Well, what are their technical reasons that they are telling you about this?” And she said, “I don’t really know.” So, I said, “Then you have the wrong doctors.” So, we posted on our Facebook page that there was a woman in this tiny town in North Carolina. "Please everyone give us your plastic surgeons names. We are getting on the phone with every single one of them and finding out who can do her surgery." I got an email from her six months later and she said that she found her doctor. Women from Facebook had recommended their doctors in her area. She had her surgery and her reconstruction just got complete. That is what we are doing. We are here for each other."

I think that is one thing that has been incredible to me about our relationship and also observing exactly what you just said in your company and in what you do. You seem that you have adopted this idea that it is so much about every woman’s choice and decision to do whatever they want with their body with no judgement, and creating your line that reaches out to every iteration. It creates that inclusivity and community so that there is not judgement one way or the other. In speaking about my explant, I wasn’t speaking about any other woman’s decision because I made a decision to do reconstruction in one phase of my life that then later I realized was not the right decision for me personally but I don’t pretend that I can hop into your body or hop into your body or hop into your body and tell if it is right for you to have implantsor if it is right for you to have pizza for dinner. That is your domain.

You have handled that so beautifully in your business in a way that, beyond the product, goes into what needs to be spoken about more in society. That we all look different and that every iteration of different is beautiful. So, I thank you for that and I think that that’s a really incredible aspect of what you are doing that far exceeds the creation and selling of a product. I know that it is about more than that for you, so I am reflecting back that I think that comes through so beautifully and I know it is hard. I’ve been a business owner and I know it is hard to balance all of the different things that you are trying to communicate.

"Yes, at the end of the day we are all women, no matter what our bodies look like. So, if something makes you feel good about yourself, and if that happens to be a pretty piece of lingerie, then it happens to be a pretty piece of lingerie. If it happens to be fake eyelashes, then it is fake eyelashes. If it’s a different wig every day, then it is a different wig every day. We all get to choose what makes us feel good about ourselves. I try to leave it open so that women can talk about their experiences without the judgement. Because it is really hard, especially on social media. I have had my story published on plenty of platforms and when I showed my mastectomy tattoos, because it really wasn’t the trend at the time and I had to find a tattoo artist that would do it. I mean the comments of what people would say to me were so incredibly shocking. I thought to myself, "Here I have thick skin. I don’t really care what you say. It’s my body, I don’t care what you say about how I’ve destroyed my body. It’s not your thing to say." But it is the same for women who decide to explant or stay flat or to get reconstruction and to get the biggest reconstruction that they can get. To each their own. Entirely so. So, I really appreciate that feedback that you noticed that."

How did you handle that feedback when that happened? Did you just turn a blind eye? I’m just curious because the more that we put ourselves out there…

"I stopped reading comments. Don’t ever read the comments. Even when my first story published about the lingerie, one woman was incredibly rude in her comments. I even got some hate mail. I thought, "Wow, this is incredible." I thought I was trying to do something really beautiful."

LISA: What’s to hate?

"The hate mail was that she couldn’t believe that I was writing a story about my breast cancer experience and what I created afterward. She didn’t think it was newsworthy. And so I said, "Ok." I didn’t really know what to say. Here’s this thing that comes from my heart, something I really wanted to do to help other women feel beautiful and good about themselves and I got hate mail. It made me sympathize with celebrities. You know they are just people and you look at some of the comments that are put down and, you know, the internet is an easy place to hide behind. Trolls will troll." 

SAM: It is easy to reach out or lash out from a place of pain through the internet because there is no face to face contact and it is another way of not dealing with whatever is happening internally for someone. It is just a complete displacement of whatever pain or anger or sadness, whatever is going on for the individual, to "I am going to lump it onto you." 

"That’s what it taught me. It taught me that.  I kept it for a specific reason because I had to know that my story getting out was doing this to a woman, some way, somehow. Maybe because she wasn’t at the right place in her life. Maybe there was some PTSD after her diagnosis. It could have been a million things. I wanted to be conscious of it because I want to do my best to encourage others but not everyone is going to see it that way and you have to do what is best for you. So, since then, my skin has gotten thicker. So, I don’t read the comments."

Otherwise, it just deflects from what you are here to do.

"And your energy. If you know you are making a difference in women’s lives, and you are making a difference in just one woman’s life, then that’s all I need to know. I’ll keep going. The second that stops, game over. You know? It becomes something else and I have no interest in being involved in it. The encouraging emails, the encouraging replies back, I will look at them on my worst days and I will pick myself off the ground and keep going because that is what it is all about."

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That is the truth. That’s what Vonn shared with me. They photograph the positive comments for those tough days, for the times when someone lashes out. So they can look back and say, "Ok, I made a difference in that person’s life or I inspired that person to show up as themselves." Move on and keep doing. Because otherwise we get pulled down. 

So, I would love to hear about a last cut that perhaps you have made. I don’t know if you have a particular instance that you‘d like share that was significant and put you up against walking through the fire of “this is what I believe in most" and "this is what I need to do to step up to who I am supposed to be,” or, as I have talked about, sometimes it is walking toward something. It doesn’t have to be a removal. We talk so much about removals in this realm! {laughs}

"Well, I am actually not going to talk about a removal. I am going to talk about an addition because I had both of my breasts removed. I had a very aggressive form of breast cancer at a very young age. So, the cards were stacked up against me and I wanted to take as much control as I could. I got the reconstruction because I was 27. It was two months before my wedding. The only thing I could think of, when I had to postpone my wedding, was how was I going to wear my wedding dress? It was two months before my wedding. Everything was already purchased, so I did the reconstruction. I really felt like it would help me ease the transition in that phase of my life, which it did. I am very happy with my choices. When it comes the time to remove them, I have no idea what person I will be and what I will want to do. My big defining moment was when I decided to get my mastectomy tattoo because that was the moment when I took my life back, and I stopped listening to what the doctors were telling me. I stopped listening to “This is your next stage. This is your next surgery. This is your next part of the process,” because I said, “Stop.” 

I put my foot down and I said, "Stop." I was really nervous about getting my mastectomy tattoo. First, because I knew my doctors would not approve, and I felt like they had been such an intimate part of my life for so long that I didn’t want to disappoint them. Secondly, when I went on the world wide web and started typing in "mastectomy tattoos," I came up with nothing, except the woman that has a double mastectomy and has the Celtic shield across her chest. My only point of connection was if they can tattoo a nipple on my reconstructed breast, they should be able to tattoo whatever I want. If I want a flower or a star, whatever, I should be able to do that. 

I had wanted to do stars instead of nipples. My nipples faded. I’m not sure if that’s common. There’s that whole thing you go through and then they were gone. 

"I’ve heard that. It is common. So, I asked my doctor, "What do I do with these nipples? So, I get the nipples tattooed. Am I going to feel anything?"  And they were like, “No.” So, help me understand why my next phase is to get nipples when they aren’t going to do anything? I’m sorry if I’m just missing a part of the process. I finally felt like I was starting to assess my choices and make the one that was right for me. You know? So when I consumed my whole chest with a chest tattoo and found a tattoo artist who was willing to do it, that was an extremely liberating moment for me when I stopped listening to what other people wanted me to do and I started doing what I wanted. That was my transition into this newfound power that I didn’t know that I had beforehand."

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So beautiful. How soon after your whole diagnosis, treatment, surgeries, everything? When did you get married then after that? How long did you and your husband wait? And then also when was the tattoo in terms of that timing?

"So, I was diagnosed two months before our wedding. Not knowing what I was getting into, I kept asking the doctor, “So can I still get married?” I’d get the friendly little pat on the shoulder saying, "You know, honey, you can. You can have your bilateral mastectomy, go have your wedding, and then come back and start chemo. So, if that’s what you want, do it, but there’s no time to play around here." So, I didn’t want my wedding day to be a sad day. I wanted it to be a point of celebration. We postponed the wedding until one year later. I got my doctors all on board. I said, “We’ve got one year, guys.” 

So, I ended up going through two reconstructive processes. My second one was done in January, and I started my tattoo in March. I only had the outline and half of my body done on our wedding day. I was going back every four to five weeks and getting more work done."

How many sessions did it take?

"Three seven hour sessions. It was really intense. It was intense because it was emotional and physical. My tattoo artist was the first person who touched my new fake breasts after surgery. I didn’t feel comfortable with my fiancé touching them. I could barely touch them and shower and wash them off. It was something that I was not trying to identify as myself. I felt very alien to it. So, as I started to feel these sensations and pains as someone was tattooing on my body, it helped me to not feel like they were a complete foreign object on me. Even though I still kind of view them as not quite me, not really quite a part of my body, they are still a little bit alien." 

They are an important accessory.

"They are an important accessory."

They fill out your tattoo. 

"They do. They do a really good job filling out my tattoo!"

How much of your tattooing in that region did you feel?

"Not much at all. Just the pressure. Across my mastectomy, I felt about 50% of it. So, that part was good!"

There’s the one positive bit about that. And how did you feel after walking towards that decision and getting the tattoo? You already alluded to how that made you feel so much more in your power. Give me more detail about how you then felt in your life. It’s interesting, because obviously not everyone sees it, but you went on to create all of these different dreams and have become an incredibly powerful business woman and community leader and so much more in your personal life, friend life. 

"I guess I just don’t take shit anymore. I don’t have any energy to pretend or to try to take anybody’s shit. I just feel like if it is a decision of something that I want to do, then I am going to do it. I sometimes have to let go of the just the judgements in life. I think women, especially, you know, [think] you aren’t pretty enough. You aren’t smart enough. You are not working hard enough. We are our worst critics. 100% of the time. We just do it to ourselves. I mean, I’m still my worst critic. I disappoint myself and hold myself to really high standards but, I guess it felt like I was in the power to control it. I knew somebody else wasn’t going to control my success. Nobody was giving anything to me. I had to work for it. That was a definitive moment for me. Especially in that one year when doctors were making decisions for me, I felt like I lost that side of me. I was letting things happen around me and I wasn’t in control of anything and that was a new experience for me, or so I thought. I thought I was in control. I wasn’t. I don’t know. I think that led from one tattoo to another tattoo. I wanted a sleeve my entire life but I was afraid that people would judge me. So, I went and got the sleeve. And I wanted the port scar on the inside of my arm covered, because that was the thing that almost killed me."

Did you get an infection or something?

"My platelets crashed in my last three treatments. So, I had to get platelet transfusion each time and IV bags and it was scary. You know, you’re sitting here thinking, "Oh, my cancer is not going to kill me but my treatment could knock me off my game and cause some internal bleeding and really eff things up." People would say, “But why do you want a tattoo there? You don’t even see that scar.”" 

But you see it every day. Many times a day. 

"I said, “I see it every day. All day long. It is a constant reminder.” Yes, I want to put something pretty over top of it and you don’t have a choice what I am going to do with my body. So, I think things like that just start surfacing. I did my bio photos for Ana Ono but the photographer ended up convincing me to take off my shirt to show my mastectomy tattoo, but that wasn’t the original intention. I ended up getting the pictures and I sat on them for a few years because I don’t think I was ready. I wasn’t ready to share that intimate side of me. So, I sat on them and I’m glad that I did because now I am one of a handful of stories of women who are out there to share that option. I was very vocal about it that you get choices. Make them for yourself! Now women all over the world are getting these incredibly beautiful and impressive mastectomy tattoos. Makes me jealous and wonder if I should have waited. {laughs} But I’ll just build on to it. It’s fine! There’s always more skin."

I love it. What you are telling reminds me so much of how these circumstances, these moments in life, that are so particular to a certain community or a certain person, are so universal, when you really take a step back. It is how I felt about the explant. I don’t know how many people can relate to that specific thing, but when you actually talk about it, it is the same thing that you are actually talking about. How well do I know myself? How willing am I to know myself and allow myself to stand up for who I am regardless of what anyone around me has told me I need to look like, what I need to say, how I need to dress and all these other protocols, and so on and so forth? 

In writing my book, I have become so clear that when we have a traumatic medical diagnosis, you are so traumatized in that moment that you are outsourcing everything to the people who are going to save your life and make you healthy. And that is so damaging when then you go back out into the world because you forget where your power is sourced. So, I love what you chose to share because I think it is exactly that moment. Someone, say a man, whatever, someone who won’t have that specific experience, can relate to that story and think, "Ok, I need to completely just own what is mine and take it back and block out all of the other voices." So, yay! Kudos.

"Yay. I didn’t do anything for anyone beside myself. Thankfully, my fiancé was extremely supportive, breasts, no breasts, you know. He’s a butt guy so I lucked out on that front! {laughs} We skated through on that one! So, I got to make the decisions and it is important that you continue to harbor that. There are some women who don’t want treatment and you have to respect that too. So, we have decisions that we have to make very quickly and typically with very little information, especially surgery and mastectomies. They don’t talk about it." 

Yes. And that was part of the conversation I had with Vonn, as well. In that moment, I felt as though I was given very thorough information about very specific options. Not doing any reconstruction was not given a forum in the way that this implant vs. this implant were, in terms of then what would make me seem normal, what would make me happiest, because that was what made other women happy. Even the nipples, that was part of the conversation as well, that the nipples are a marker of normalcy. Maybe that’s true, in some circumstances, again it goes back to the individuality. I have a daughter and so it was presented as “Well, see how she feels about it because with kids it has little to do with breasts or not, it is the nipple that is more of a psychological marker.”

"I have a friend who said “I don’t know what I’m going to do. I think my son thinks that all women don’t have nipples!” {laughs} You know, your kids see you naked, I assume. I go home to my niece and nephew and there is no privacy. I think there is an association to that. So, you know, the nipple is the source of life, right? That’s how women feed their children, you know, for as long as they can. There is an importance to that, especially through your sexuality, but when it stops being a functioning piece, and it is just ornamental, you get to make a decision."

ALISON: "To change your ornaments."

DANA: "Right. You get to change your ornaments. Hey, and some women actually do. There are some beautiful nipple prosthetics out there. I had them stuck to my hands. They are beautiful. I thought they were great. I could see the association of maybe wanting to get sexual and get intimate and wanting to feel that way. I can feel that and respect it and get it. For me, it just wasn’t that."

You need to have a talk show about all the bells and whistles.

ALISON: "How many times have I told you that?"

I love it. You are so frank. It’s great. You are just to the point. I think the whole point to so many angles of this conversation is that it is so taboo. 

DANA: "Correct."

So, what happens underneath our clothing, as women, really in the US, as humans, is “don’t be naked.” So there is that aspect of it and then, a real and honest conversation about what happens after you are sick, in a way that affects your hormones and your parts, is huge. 

ALISON:  "No one talks about that. They don’t tell you what to expect afterward. They say you are going to be better and things will happen. Very vague and it’s like being hit by a truck when they say, "Oh, you are going to be on these meds for like ten years." It is like, what? Where did this come from?"

DANA: "Yeah, and what the med side-effects are. You know, I was an engaged fiancé with an amazing sex life that now is completely destroyed because of cancer. Who tells you that? I didn’t have a single doctor tell me that my sex life after cancer was going to suck. Now there are ways around it and I should probably get therapy, but there are just some physical limitations and it takes a lot of work to get back to a place where you were before. I know some women who have gotten there and they give me words of encouragement, and I know a lot of women that haven’t. So, you just figure it out as you can figure it out." 

Well and the part where my heart is just ripping open hearing you speak, not only for you, for all of us, because it is, your body changes and you have to reorient around that. Then throw having a baby in there and you are like what in the world is going on? But, you are at least talking about it and I imagine…and this is a question that I want to ask you if you are willing to share it…how you have navigated this with your husband and keeping open communication around all of these things? I know from my own experience with my ex-husband, you know, when I had so many different medical things. It is really challenging to maintain that closeness with someone, and I’m not talking about even just the sexual closeness. It’s really difficult to maintain a connection when you are so in your own shit of what you are going through and they are trying to help but don’t know how. It takes an enormous amount of conscientiousness to communicate and stay committed to the commitment. So, I would love for you to speak to that because you made it through and I am sure there are good days and bad days.

But what I was going to say, before you answer that, just as a side note, is that my heart goes out. I know that so many women can’t talk about this in their communities and in their families. That really is so much about what Last Cut is about—creating a place where people can talk about things that aren’t normally given a stage and to desensitize it and say, "Hey, it is ok. We all have something behind closed doors that we are ashamed to talk about and when we start to talk about it, we start to meet other people that make us feel human and make us feel ok about ourselves." 

"Yes and I, sadly, have met a lot of those women that only their best friends and their husbands know that they have had breast cancer. Their kids don’t know. Their families don’t know. That society and that piece of expectation is still out there. Though we are changing the conversation and a lot of women are starting to speak out about their experience and really how physical and damaging this disease can be, there are still a lot of people who don’t know anything about it. You know? We’ve wrapped everything in a pretty pink bow, and we’ve delivered it with a bunch of cupcakes and sunshine and rainbows, that the reality has gotten so far away from that mission. We are hurting women whose lives could potentially be saved because they are actually aware what a disease is and not just doing a walk for a pink ribbon and that is a shame. Because some of these women we know, eighteen years old, I mean their doctors told them for three and four years that they were fine because breast cancer in the scope and now they are stage four."

That’s the interview we did with Stephanie, who was 23 when she was diagnosed. Same thing, her doctor said to her 99% chance that you are fine. Whatever it was, and she said, "Well, if there is even half a percent of a chance, then we should biopsy this," and they did and she had breast cancer. So, right, I think that is where we need to be having a more serious dialogue. Also, environmentally things have shifted so much in probably the last 30 years. So the conversation is changing with all cancers and all diseases because we have completely abused our environment and in return all of the chemicals and the pollution and things that are triggering the rise of cancer diagnoses is rampant. 

"Yes, we are paying the price for that." 

For a doctor to say, "Oh no, you are too young." I think that is happening in every realm of the medical world that things are happening so much earlier. I mean, look at diabetes, and that is happening perhaps less about the physical world and more about the social environment that we are promoting, especially in America and what people are eating. Then we have so many kids being diagnosed with diabetes. So, I think the conversation needs to shift not only on what are we doing to prevent all of these things from happening to begin with and how can we promote taking care of ourselves better, but then the realization that we are screwing ourselves over here a little bit if we don’t wake up. That’s a bit of a tangent but it is related to exactly what you were saying.

"It is entirely true." 

So, I want to hear about the relationship part. Just in general of how you have coped with your relationships. Obviously, what you have spoken to in your decision to do your tattoo of stepping into your power, not taking crap from other people…but I know that can be challenging at times to then put that into practice. So, I guess that is a more general way of asking the relationship question. What’s challenging about holding yourself accountable to what you committed to when you got your tattoo?

"Yeah. I mean, I think relationships are hard. Straight up. And when cancer enters that picture, they just get harder and that can be with your loved ones or your friends. I have seen it go all different directions. My husband and I to this day, the way he deals with things is through denial. It is not the best way to handle things! {laughs} So, I really have to make an effort to be like, “We need to talk about this. My body is changing. Our relationship is changing." You know, we can go off course. We can come back. I think that a lot of that is communication but it is really hard to have that conversation with somebody that loves you because we sit with the fear of what our life will be in the future, or now, or the present, every day. They can’t. It is just different. And so, I have said a lot of nasty things to my husband in the last six years.

There was one rant when he was talking about how he was putting money away for retirement and I lost my mind and I told him if he says one more thing about his retirement I was going to lose my shit because it didn’t matter what he did now, that was for his next wife. Because I didn’t know if I was going to make it. It was in those moments when he went stone cold because I exposed my true honest feelings and why I was having such an issue at that phase of my life as I constantly heard about him talking about the future because I couldn’t think past tomorrow and he didn’t get that. At least it took that outburst for us to have a conversation about how I was afraid of dying and how he was afraid of me dying and that’s why he could only talk about the future and I could only talk about the present. But how do you have those conversations with people that you love? I mean, that’s heavy shit and that’s why I say, too, that I can’t go through menopause for a third time because somebody will die and it will be him." {laughs}

Poor guy. 

DANA: "He’s a champ. But, really, menopause makes your crazy. It literally makes you lose your mind. I understand these shows now where like grandma has gone wild!"

ALISON: "The whole thing just like shoots you right into old lady things. You have no filter so you say whatever the hell you want. Cancer gives you no filter. I act like my grandmother, like we will both say the same thing. I think it is the lack of hormones in our bodies or whatever." 

DANA: "I understand why Grandma sat down with a glass of whisky every night."

Right. But the flip side of that is that then it is out in the open. I had a couple of really incredible conversations in the last month. One with my dad and stepmom in particular which was so special because we talked about how, with the people we love the most, sometimes we hold back. Because our deepest darkest fear I think as humans, universally, is that the people we love won’t love us back. So, whatever scenario is playing out in each of our lives, you don’t say something because you are afraid that what you say may not land right. However it might be perceived and that then the love will be cut off. Then we hold back but really that doesn’t get us anywhere, either. I then had the same conversation with my best friend from college, just the other day, where she said if I say too much and I’m so opinionated and I’m so East coast about things. I said that shows me that you love me. It is not so easy to be on the receiving end in the moment but holding back, to me, now that I have gotten to a point where I am constantly holding myself to a place of "Ok, what do I need to say? How do I want to say it? What is going to make me feel best?" I can recognize that but it is so hard. I mean, I barely slept last night because of something related to a similar thread. Now hearing you talk, I am like, "Ok. Here is the perfect moment to be having this conversation with you and hearing that, because why am I not sleeping and worrying about what someone else thinks about something I am doing if I know that I am doing it with the right intention and I am doing it in a way that feels clear to me and isn’t something that I worry will hurt my daughter?

Whatever check points we each have, if I am good on that, why am I spinning out? It’s an old habit and old habits die hard. Lisa can tell you that every time we go to shoot I say “Here I am again. I’m just having my best friend take picture of me?” But it goes back to your same point you made about your mastectomy tattoo. If we can change one person’s life by making ourselves vulnerable and if we can improve our relationships with our most intimate people and family then putting ourselves on the line with our people and family is worth it, as scary as that is. And every time it is scary. 

Do you find that each time you push yourself to grow what you are doing, whether it is in your business or within yourself, that the same old things rear up and say, "Oh hey, remember me? Are you ready to be bigger?"

DANA: "Oh yeah. You know, there is something different about being who we are and evolving and staying still at the same time. I think I often times find a big conflict in that for myself because… A few points here is… One is putting myself out there, initially. I had an incredibly successful career before I stepped away to start my own line and there was a professional side of me that said, "If I do this, everybody is going to know that I had breast cancer. And if this falls on its face and fails, then I am out of work for the rest of my life." That is truly a risk that I thought I was taking when I launched Ana Ono. I now know that is ridiculous, but in that moment I was truly afraid of telling people that I had cancer. I didn’t know what they would think. I thought I was going to die so why wouldn’t everybody else think that I was going to die? 

You had to kind of figure this out but then there are other parts of me where… I know I will always be a workaholic. I know it is not good for me, right? I know it causes me stress. I know it keeps me out of the gym. I know all of these things and as much as I tell myself every morning, “You are going to do yourself first!” I’m like, "No, I’m not." That’s kind of funny. No, I’m not. Because that is who I am. That kind of deep thread in my body doesn’t go away with cancer. It might put it into perspective a little bit more so I can say, "Ok, I need to calm down. I need to go on vacation. I need to go to the spa for a day. I need to watch "Walking Dead" for eight hours. Whatever I need to do, right?" Which before, I was not able to do that. So, I am evolving but you can’t flip a switch and start all over again at once. 

So, yeah, sitting up late at night running through my head as to, you know, how am I going to keep the business moving forward?  How am I going to pay the people who are helping me? How am I going to keep making product? Like, it is going to constantly be there. The good thing about cancer is that I can maybe shut it off with some medication if I need to. {laughs} Occasionally. That’s why my favorite eye mask says “Medicated,” because that is likely true {more laughter}. Alison designed that one, actually and I thought it was perfect.

I don’t know. I kind of went off in several directions there but I think I am a better person. I don’t think I’m a different person."

ALISON: "I think I became the person I always wanted to be because I am not afraid to like disappoint anyone because I just don’t care if I disappoint anyone. Because you know that you have that end. Everybody knows that they are going to die but we are much more aware of it. I’m not going to spend time skirting an issue. I am going to deal with it and move past it because I don’t want to waste any more time on something that is going to hurt me or doesn’t hurt me. I need to know what it is going to do."

DANA: Somebody said something really insightful to me once and it really helped me. They said “Time now has a definition.” That has stayed with me since the moment it was said because, especially at 27, I thought time was limitless. I thought I had all the time in the world and now I guess it just removed some of that inhibition because, so what? Ana Ono doesn’t make it? I tried. I did the best I could. I gave it my all. I did something that I always dreamt of doing.

lcc_dana_025_web.jpg

Yes.

"And I guess because I wasn’t afraid of failing is why I was able to take that leap. Where, I spent {my life} having this dream to have my own fashion line, my own fashion house, my own couture."  

And look at what you are doing. It is amazing. 

"Yeah, I never had the guts to go and try it before it. So, I don’t know. Good, bad, indifferent, I don’t know."

Well, it shakes everything up and I think it provides the opportunity to either go this route or to retreat to what was known.

"Right."

Again, it speaks to everyone going their own way about it but I think perhaps those of us who had felt the friction of what was happening around us and how perhaps we were out of sync with the actions we were taking with our internal compass and then something like that happens and it is like, "Ok, I have this opportunity. I kind of have this card here to just deep dive into being who I am. Do I want to take it?" And it took me years. I was 21 when I had thyroid cancer and I am now 41 and so, I started to pull all of this apart five years ago. That was still a very long window of time.  I don’t think I had the ability because of my age to process, where maybe in my later twenties I might have and then I got hit with the BRCA diagnosis, which even though that wasn’t an actual breast cancer diagnosis, my mom was 31 when she had breast cancer and since I had already had thyroid cancer, I was looked at like a grenade that the clip had been pulled on. I was told, "Ok, have yourself some babies if you are going to have them and let’s get this show on the road."

{To Alison} How old were you when you were diagnosed?

ALISON: "I was 34 when I was diagnosed and I found it myself in the shower. It wasn’t like a lump, it was like a hard spot and I thought, "This doesn’t feel right." I went to my family doctor because I wasn’t really sure what to do. The way that that spot had spread out, they looked at me right away and said, “You went from having a 20% chance of having cancer to having an 80% chance of cancer,” just based on the way that mass looked and I had my mastectomy on my 35th birthday." 

DANA: "Happy Birthday!"

ALISON: "My doctor even said, “Look at all the drugs we are going to take today!” It was my first major surgery under general. My surgeon came in with a little music box that played "Happy Birthday" to me because he was sweet. My whole family kind of rallied around me which was great. My husband flew his mother up and made her basically take care of everyone. My house was spotless! There’s some ways I wish she was always there." 

You’re like, "I don’t want to get sick again but…"

ALISON: "All the laundry was done and I didn’t have to think about it! Her and my mom were like matching socks forever because apparently, I had not matched any socks in like over a year. I still worked through my treatment because I worked from home and I could but that was like the first time I was doing only freelance work and I thought if I can do all this while going through chemo and reconstruction then there is no reason for me to go back into an office again. That was when I decided that I’m not going back. My kids are much more relaxed. I’m much more relaxed. It is just a better situation. So far, I’ve managed to do decent. I mean, I’m not a millionaire but I’m enjoying life and my kids enjoy it. I get to drive them to hockey."

Now we really know we are on the East coast. Hockey.  {laughs}

{To DANA} So what’s most true to you? What do you believe in most that makes you get up every day and keep doing this?

DANA: "My heart. I’ve always been fortunate enough to follow my heart and I think I consider myself lucky because of that. I’ve had always support along the way to maybe do what I didn’t necessarily think was right or wrong but was what my heart told me to do. Anytime I have denied access to that part of my being, it has ended up wrong so now I’ve just learned to trust it and go with it. I think if you can think and make decisions from that place it will always be good decisions personally and professionally. So, it is what gets me up in the morning. It is the passion and the love for the people around me, my friends, my husband, the people I work with, my dog. I don’t have kids but I have a little furry baby. Yeah, that’s just how I try to stay honest."

I love that.

"Yeah. Thanks." 

 Thank you.

Is there anything else you want the world to know about you, the company or what you are doing that you want to share? 

"You know, I just hope for support of one another. It took me a long time to say that what I was doing was helping to change a woman’s life but I’ve had so many stories shared with me about how women’s lives have changed because they’ve decided to take control. I’ve just encouraged people to not only be there to support your friends and loved ones, but tell them about Ana Ono. Get them to come to the website!"

Take pictures of yourself like I did! 

"Take pictures of my bras. Whatever works. I’m not asking for too much. {laughs} But yes, the support has been incredible, and I just want to thank everybody. Thank you and knowing and doing what you are doing I think is so impressive and so inspiring and you are helping many women out there as well. We just have to lift each other up." 

That is so true. Thank you. 

"Yay."

Go team. 

 

 

 

 

Samantha Paige

Samantha Paige

Anne Van de Water

Anne Van de Water