Donofree regained her body confidence through a series of empowering tattoos after surviving breast cancer. Image: Nikki Riley PhotographyBy Marilyn La Jeunesse and Hayley Wilbur2015-10-06 23:04:08 UTC
Dana Donofree is taking back her body one tattoo at a time.
The lingerie designer and breast cancer survivor had trouble coming to terms with her physical appearance after undergoing a double mastectomy, reconstructive surgery and several sessions of chemotherapy at age 28.
“Getting a double mastectomy is not something you are ever prepared for at any age,” Donofree tells Mashable. “There is the cavalcade of emotional challenges, some of which you may never have really considered, like how attached you may actually be to your breasts.”
Donofree has regained her life after taking an unordinary approach to her recovery.
Image: Tracy Birdsell Photography
Now 33, Donofree bears a total of three tattoos, which divulge the story of her breast cancer journey from start to finish.
“My body issues did not stem from not having nipples any longer; it was more about feeling unfinished from a personal standpoint,” she says. “I didn’t like what I saw and I wanted something to look at that I did like. I wanted some way to self-express and take control. I figured if they could tattoo a nipple, why couldn’t they tattoo something else there? Once that occurred to me, it was off to the races.”
She chose to tattoo an intricate cherry blossom tree extending from one reconstructed breast to the other, celebrating her “tree of life.”
Donofree’s mastectomy tattoo forms a pseudo-bra around her breasts.
Image: Nikki Riley Photography
“Once I finished my mastectomy tattoo, and felt instantly and infinitely better about myself, I went on to aspire to cover my port scar [from chemotherapy],” she says.
A lotus flower now covers this area wrought with emotion.
To her, it represents a symbol of rebirth, one that softens the thoughts of her treatment — an important part of her emotional healing.
“The mastectomy tattoo helped me appreciate the removal of my cancer. Once the diseased breast [was] taken away, so was the cancer,” Donofree recalls. “But my chemo almost did me in. It was unlike anything else I experienced. It was the scariest time during my entire journey, and every time I looked at that scar, all the emotions and memories came rushing back.”
The lotus flower is one of three tattoos that tells the story of Donofree’s journey.
The third tattoo, which she fondly refers to as the wings of life, represents her entire journey through breast cancer for her and her husband.
For Donofree, the tattoos are more than an artwork — they are a way for her to take back her life.
“I felt whole again,” she says. “I felt like I did something for myself…not because it was what my doctors told me I had to do. I took back control. And that was what made me feel like myself. It was something I wanted to do, and something that made me celebrate where I had been and what I had been though. I was absolutely empowered.”
In the five years since her mastectomy, Donofree has started her own lingerie company, making bras for women who have had breast cancer surgeries. A large part of this mission she attributes to the artwork, which was a huge part of her healing.
“Having breast cancer, or any illness for that matter, takes away a significant measure of control,” Donofree explains. “The tattoo was the big catalyst for everything else. It was the first time I thought to myself, ‘I don’t like option A, I’m not interested in option B and the status quo is unacceptable. What are my other options? How can I approach this in a different light?'”
Image: Nikki Riley Photography
Donofree has a lot of plans in store for her brand, AnaOno. She’s currently competing for an ad spot in the upcoming Super Bowl.
She’s taken what she’s learned being diagnosed with cancer and going through a double mastectomy at a young age to move forward and empower other women in similar situations.
“What’s on the outside is purely cosmetic. If you don’t like something, change it and move on from it. Don’t give it the power to rule over you.”
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