Twenty-seven-year-old fashion designer Dana Donofree was out shopping for her honeymoon when she got the call: A small lump she found a week earlier had tested positive for an aggressive form of breast cancer called Infiltrative Ductal Carcinoma. She needed a double mastectomy and six rounds of chemo immediately. “It sounds silly now, but all I could think during the initial flurry of appointments with surgeons and doctors was, ‘Can I still get married in two months?’” she says.
Three weeks (and one postponed wedding) later, both of her breasts were gone, and as she discussed reconstruction with her surgeon she made the decision to opt out of one key element: nipples. “It just wasn’t for me, I didn’t feel like I needed them to feel whole again,” says Dana. “But I started thinking—if they can tattoo on nipples, why shouldn’t I get a tattoo of something that feels like a better expression for me?”
With her fiancÃƒÂ© fully on board, Dana booked her appointment with a new kind of body specialist—a tattoo artist. “I’ve always wanted a tattoo sleeve, and when you have cancer some of those inhibitions just go away,” she says.
To cover the scars across her chest, Dana asked the artist to create a cherry blossom tree that originated on her back and wrapped around her ribs up to her chest. “I wanted something feminine and beautiful that also signified the fragileness of life,” she says. “It’s shaped almost like a demi bra, because I wanted to feel sexy when I took off my clothes and my old lace bras weren’t fitting.” Dana says she'll be adding two birds extending out of the cherry blossom tree in the near future to represent two close friends she has lost to cancer.
To cover her chemotherapy port scar (which the doctor put under her arm so she could wear a strapless wedding dress), Dana chose a lotus flower tattoo. “I had a really hard time with chemo—it was one of those situations where the cancer didn’t almost kill me but the chemo did—so I picked something that signaled rebirth,” she says.
As for those bras that no longer fit? Dana, now five years into her recovery, took matters into her own hands and launched her own lingerie line, called AnaOno Intimates, designed to fit breast cancer survivors. “I was pretty much only left with sports bras after reconstruction because the underwire and cups in regular bras didn’t fit my new curves,” she says. “It was crazy, and I wanted to help other women reclaim some of their femininity.” Dana’s designs are all named after breast cancer survivors she’s met, and five percent of all sales go to breast cancer foundations. (Even cooler—all of the models on her site have undergone reconstruction and look stunning.)