“I wanted to hopefully help other women who wanted to feel good and—god forbid—wanted to feel sexy. Being thankful that I'm alive is not enough. I want to live.”
Dana was diagnosed with breast cancer the day before her 28th birthday, just three months before her planned wedding in 2010. A small lump under her armpit sent her to the doctor, where she assumed she would be told she simply had dense breasts.
“I first went in for the doctor appointment, then I had to reschedule because I traveled for work. I actually ended up rescheduling with the nurse practitioner who was kind of new in the practice world. I always say that that woman saved my life,” she said.
The nurse practitioner’s decision to send Dana for an immediate ultrasound led to a mammogram, a biopsy, and a diagnosis. Dana had fast-growing, HER2 positive breast cancer. She underwent bilateral mastectomies with implant breast reconstruction and chemotherapy.
As Dana recovered physically, she found herself struggling emotionally.
“I got through my year of treatment and I was just struggling. I woke up in the middle of the night with a hot flash, and it hit me: I had not met another young woman yet.”
That realization came with another: she was no longer returning to the same lingerie drawer. She found herself uncomfortable in the lingerie she had saved before her mastectomies and unable to find any equivalent that comfortably fit her post-mastectomy body. With those two thoughts in mind, Dana founded AnaOno, a lingerie company that is specifically designed for people who have undergone breast or chest surgery. That company has since fostered a community as well, offering representation for young breast cancer patients like her.
“I wanted to hopefully help other women who wanted to feel good and—god forbid—wanted to feel sexy. Being thankful that I’m alive is not enough. I want to live.”
Amid her professional and community building work, Dana managed chronic neck and shoulder pain. She also dealt with implant animation as a result of her reconstructed breast implants’ position under the chest wall muscle. While her breast reconstruction was high quality for the time it was completed, twelve years after her surgery, she felt it was time for a change.
“I would say overall I became a very informed patient over the last ten years, and I had a firm understanding of breast reconstruction advancements and the options that were available to me now that were not available then.”
In 2022, Dana had her submuscular breast implants moved to a pre-pectoral position, over the chest wall muscle. The revision surgery was successful, despite issues with the thickness of her skin. Dana said that the thickness issue means that she has some visible rippling, but she considers it to be much better than the animation and pain she had prior.
“It’s not fully resolved, I’m still dealing with what I’ve heard to be residual scar tissue, but it’s 20 times better. It’s really night and day from where I was.”
In addition to the question of skin thickness, Dana’s revision involved another, unusual challenge. In 2010, when it came time for nipple reconstruction, instead of traditional nipples, she asked an artist to tattoo a cherry blossom tree on each breast, which cascaded down and around onto her back. Fortunately, her surgical team was able to carefully place her incisions so as not to disrupt the artwork on her body.
Dana is a powerful advocate for breast reconstruction, bodily autonomy, and the power of informed decision making.
“No one should ever feel guilty about their decision. If you want to go flat, go flat, if you want breasts, go out and get some!”