Breast Cancer: “Live in the present because sometimes that’s all we have”.
Published Oct 22, 2022 • By Lizzi Bollinger
Dana’s interaction with breast cancer led to a journey that made her understand herself better as well as those around her. Read on to find out how she aims to revolutionize the clothing industry for breast cancer affected women!
Hello Dana, thank you for agreeing to share your story with us on Carenity!
First of all, could you tell us more about yourself ?
My name is Dana Donofree, I live in Philadelphia with my hubby of 11 years and our dog, Hooch.
Could you tell us when you were diagnosed with breast cancer? What alerted/prompted you to consult a doctor? What type of tests did the doctor run? How did you feel when you were diagnosed?
I was diagnosed with breast cancer 12 years ago at the age of 27. I was in the shower when I found a lump inside my armpit. I never thought that small little lump would be breast cancer! It was because of my best friend and my little sister, who had just had their annual checkups and were told that they had dense breast tissue, that I thought maybe I should get the lump checked out. I was diagnosed with stage one IDC HER2+ ER+ breast cancer. Due to the aggressive nature of my diagnosis, I underwent a bilateral mastectomy with implant reconstruction. My treatment plan included 8 1/2 years of hormone suppressing drugs and targeted therapy.
What type of breast cancer do you have? What distinguishes this type of cancer from others?
I was diagnosed with HER2+ ER+ invasive ductal carcinoma. I understand how lucky I am being diagnosed with HER2 in 2010 due to all the advancements in medications and treatments that were not always available for this very aggressive form of breast cancer.
What treatment did you receive? Were you satisfied with it? Did you experience any side effects?
To treat my breast cancer, I underwent 6 rounds of chemotherapy, a bilateral mastectomy with implant reconstruction, a year of targeted treatment, and 8 1/2 years of hormone-suppressing drugs. The side effects from the continuation of treatment for over five years became unbearable and I removed myself from my treatment path in order to accomplish a better quality of life. Side effects would often include stress and anxiety, intense weight gain, lack of sleep, joint pain, plus so many more.
You are active on social networks under the handle @daynadono but also are active with @anaonointimates @metavivor and @the_breasties. Was this the case before? How do you have time to be so involved?
When I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010, access to organizations and support was quite limited. It often was restricted to your immediate community and not so much into the digital environment like we live today. I knew when I was diagnosed I didn't want other young women with breast cancer to feel so utterly alone like I did when I was going through my treatment, so I've made it my mission over the last decade to advocate for this disease in order to impact and improve the lives of other people just like me using my social media platform @daynadono.
How did you decide to start @anaonointimates? What type of traction has it received?
I decided to create AnaOno when I was unable to find a bra that fit my new body after reconstruction. I knew that there had to be something better so when I never found it, I decided to create it. I've been a fashion designer my entire life, so I was in a very lucky/unlucky position to be able to take my talent and expertise and apply it to fixing my circumstances. This allowed me to not only design better bras for those of us undergoing treatment and removing our breasts as a portion of our treatment, but also to begin a conversation about how breast cancer impacts us more than what many people see and how, if we work together, we can really improve our lives as cancer patients.
Would you say cancer has changed your outlook on life? If so, in what ways?
Cancer has changed my outlook. I no longer bring things into my life that are toxic or do not bring me joy, because I am very painfully aware that time is valuable and time has limits. I want to make sure that everything I do on this earth for as long as I get to do it impacts me and those around me in the most positive ways possible.
Cancer and cancer treatments can cause big physical changes. Did you need to adjust to a new appearance? What tips and tricks do you have to share?
Many things change when you're diagnosed with breast cancer. Some I was prepared for, others not at all. I expected to lose my hair and maybe shop for a wig, but I was never expecting my underwear drawer to be as much of a problem as my hair loss. And nobody was talking about what our bodies look like after undergoing cancer treatment or having surgeries related to our disease. Another huge reason for creating AnaOno was to open a conversation about what nipple-less bodies looks like.
There were moments in my life where I couldn't even look at myself in the mirror because I could not stand what was staring back at me. I no longer felt beautiful, let alone sexy, or even like myself. I felt everything but all that! It has taken me many, many years to learn to love this new body of mine. I always encourage others that this is not a transition that happens overnight -- we have to put in a lot of hard work to find the bits and pieces of ourselves that cancer did not impact or the ones that cancer did and learn to love them.
Have you had to adapt your lifestyle? If yes, in what ways?
Adapting my lifestyle to my cancer diagnosis has been an ongoing journey for me and my last decade of survivorship. I do my best to eat as well as possible and to exercise whenever I have the energy to, but it is challenging because at times I feel tired and upset that I have to work so hard to be so healthy. However, the healthier I am, the better off I feel, and I know that’s worth it.
Did your loved ones support you? Was it easy for you to talk about the disease to those around you?
When cancer happens to somebody, it happens to everyone around them. I'm very lucky to have had an incredible support system with my friends and my family and my now husband as I was going through cancer treatment, and I realize this is not everybody’s experience. It was never hard to talk about my cancer, but it's always been difficult to talk about the real feelings I have because of my cancer. I wake up every morning questioning if today is the day my cancer is going to come back. To live with that level of emotion and concern in daily life is a struggle, and I often do not put that struggle on to others.
Finally, what advice would you give to Carenity members also affected by breast cancer?
My advice to others is that the best way to get through it is to take it one day at a time. Period. To look to the future can be overwhelming, to look to the past can be sad, s live in the present because in some ways that's all we have.
A big thank you to Dana for her testimony!
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Take care of yourself!