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Inside the Patient Entrepreneur's Mind

Inside the Patient Entrepreneurs Mind: Dana Donofree

Having a chronic illness can be challenging, and running your own business can be hard. No matter where you fit on the spectrum, we could all use a little motivation.  Our #InsidethePatientEntrepreneursMind blog series gives you insight and lifehacks on how to stay motivated from some of the most innovative patient entrepreneurs in the world.

Dana Donofree is the Founder, CEO and Head Designer of AnaOno, a lingerie & loungewear line created specifically for those who’ve been affected by breast cancer and its related surgeries.

Dana sat down with Lyfebulb to tell us how she started the collection after being diagnosed with Infiltrative Ductal Carcinoma. Dana had a bilateral mastectomy with implant reconstruction. She was underwhelmed by the bra options for women in this category and devoted her recovery and career to creating a line that was functional and fashionable.

What motivated you to create a business addressing a disease you know so well?
Being a patient isn’t easy. But it’s not because of the doctor appointments, or the life disruption, or how to manage your loved ones, it’s because all you want is to feel like the person you were before it was interrupted. That is the part no one tells you about or explains how it will affect you on levels outside of the pain, sadness, or struggle you go through…it isn’t just physical, it’s incredibly mental. When I found myself lost, confused, and having no way to find the answers, the diagnosis started dictating parts of life that were never expected, like how I felt about myself, or how I wanted to express my individuality. It was then I woke up and realized I may not be the only facing these challenges. That I may not be alone. I needed to do something about it. For me, that was taking my experience, my background, and my talents and putting them to use. That guided me to launch AnaOno. I wanted to feel beautiful, I wanted to feel sexy, and pretty and it started with my foundation. The act of simply getting dressed in the morning became my most feared task of the day, that didn’t happen before my cancer.

What are some of the hurdles you perceive exist for people with your disease?
People hear breast cancer, they see Pink. Pink shows pretty, femininity, lightness. There is nothing about breast cancer that represents these words that pink is so easily associated with. There is destruction and darkness. These are the realities, they are not pink. They are not something to celebrate. I was diagnosed at 27 years old, my life was just beginning, the pink shower that fell upon me was completely unrelatable. Living as a patient is my reality. I have to constantly face the marketing reality that has been presented to everyone else, that is an everyday struggle.

Who are some of your role models in your space?
My role models are the mothers, sisters, friends, aunts, coworkers that are diagnosed every day. It isn’t our grandmother’s (or grandfather’s) disease anymore. Breast cancer does not discriminate. And although I am facing my 8th year as a patient advocate, I see too many friends and loved ones facing a new diagnosis. They give me strength, remembrance and hope that we will conquer this disease, but we cannot accept what has been done in the past, and we must pave our own path to ensure our future is a world in which we get one more day with the ones we love.

What is your goal beyond creating a successful business?
AnaOno is not just about selling bras. Yes, we sell bras, but it is more than that. It’s a community, a support system that you can rely on for important, tangible information. I don’t want anyone diagnosed with breast cancer to feel alone; that extends itself beyond providing solutions for your treatment, it’s about supporting and holding each other up when we feel like falling. AnaOno can help strengthen that community.

What does Lyfebulb mean to you? How can we support you better? what are some of the biggest gaps today for a “young” entrepreneur?
For Lyfebulb to take a focus on chronic disease, by not only supporting the patients living with it every day but supporting those that have the skills and background to help make a difference, is an important piece of development in our community. Like living day-to-day doesn’t challenge enough, taking the extra step to make those days just a little easier is the path many of us take after facing these unique challenges. I am so proud to be a part of the Lyfebulb family, so I can not only have their support but I can support others taking the path less traveled and adding on the challenge of launching a new business!

How do you stay healthy and motivated to deliver?
Staying healthy is always something I strive for but feel I often fall short. I know life is short. I want to make sure my body is treated in the best way possible, medical side effects can really take hold. Then add on top of that launching a business. I have to give myself time to unwind whenever possible. It may be dinner with my friends, it may be a moment of meditation or a walk through the park. Just a moment to let my mind rest, while my body may be tired. I hope to find my path to mental clarity on a daily basis. That is something I will always have to prioritize in my life.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
As a “young” entrepreneur, I know a lot, but I don’t know everything. Being open to criticism and feedback, using it to become stronger is very important in both personal and professional growth. It is also good to celebrate the wins or accomplishments. Great mentors will be there to celebrate with you!

How can we draw more attention to user-driven innovation?
Starting your own business, or inventing your own solution can be overwhelming, not to mention scary. Especially when you may not have all the skill sets needed, but I do believe with passion you can achieve anything you put your mind to. By telling stories of other entrepreneurs, who have launched their businesses, I can learn more through real voices and challenges. It also helps you to feel not so alone. It’s beneficial to hear the good, the bad and the ugly… because we all have those moments.

How do you maintain work/life balance?
Maintaining a work/life balance is hard when your work is your life. It may sound crazy, but I love every single moment of my life, and those that are involved, and those I get to meet because of AnaOno. It could be an introduction to another young woman facing a diagnosis, or another woman entrepreneur, or even teaching students how they can get started. My life is my passion, and my passion is my life.

If you had three wishes, what would they be?
That by the time my nieces and nephews grow into adults that they don’t have to be afraid when receiving a cancer diagnosis because treatments will be widely available.
For our society to see disparity as equal.
That no woman faced with a diagnosis feels alone in her life and her treatment.

What is your favorite song that gets you motivated?
Janet Jackson, Black Cat


#InsidethePatientEntrepreneursMind is a weekly blog series that highlights members of Lyfebulb’s Patient-Entrepreneur Circle. The Entrepreneur Circle is an educational and inspirational platform for all people living with or affected by chronic disease. Existing entrepreneurs will be available to educate new dreamers through the website and through live events. Check out last week’s featuring Johnnie Refvik. To read more or to apply to join the Entrepreneur Circle click here.

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