Dana Donofree was diagnosed with breast cancer at 27. When she should have been planning her wedding, she was instead fighting for her life. During her treatments, she saw a gap in the market—post-mastectomy bras that weren't designed for her mother’s generation. Reconstructive surgery changed her body, but she wasn’t willing to give up her sexuality.
While still in treatment and working a full-time job, Dana started AnaOno, an intimates brand that marries feminine details with designs meant to support post-op bodies. That brand is now Dana’s lifeblood. Her bras ship to women around the world, and are carried in Soma stores across the U.S. But getting here wasn’t easy. When AnaOno graduated from a side hustle to Dana's sole source of income, the cash flow stopped. And she was still paying expensive medical bills.
In Dana’s words:
“It was right after my last exchange surgery when I started to develop and create the idea for AnaOno. But cancer a lot of times doesn’t end with that last chemo treatment. I was on hormonal therapy for the last seven and a half years. That means monitoring by your physician every three months. It means going into one doctor or the other to get your checkups, get your blood drawn, get your medications. In the U.S. especially, cancer is a massive financial burden. Just like you pay your electricity bill to keep the heat on, you have to budget money to pay for your medicine. When I was diagnosed, it almost bankrupted us. We used our wedding fund to pay for my medical bills.
When the business became so demanding, I could no longer do that and hold my full-time job. The cash flow abruptly stopped. What I wasn’t necessarily prepared for, because I didn’t budget and plan, was how useful that constant cash flow was while developing the business. I had to take a real true honest look at my lifestyle. Now I have to sit down weekly and check and see how much money I have. I feel like I’m back in my college days where I was getting waitressing gigs and saying, ‘God, I only have a hundred more dollars for the week, how am I gonna fill up my gas tank and buy groceries?’ You know, you have to decide what’s more important.
When I was diagnosed, it almost bankrupted us. We used our wedding fund to pay for my medical bills.
When I’m having a moment of doubt, I will open up my email or I will get a phone call, and it will be somebody sharing with me how much their life has been affected by the work I’ve been doing. That’s my reminder that I have to keep going no matter how tough it is. I cannot quit. I cannot quit unless it quits on me. My advice to anybody thinking about starting a business is that if you are going into it purely and solely for the money, you are doing it wrong.
I wanted to provide a premium product at an affordable price because I know cash is strapped [for women with cancer]. I know that it’s difficult to get what you need when you’re paying your doctor bills and you’re paying your rent and you’re making your car payments. Just really trying to give my community the best product for a price that they can afford is hugely impactful for me. You gotta balance business but you also gotta balance what’s important to you and important to the community.”
Illustration by Germán González