VICTORIA'S SECRET may have decided against making mastectomy bras for cancer survivors. But not to worry, ladies, a South Philly woman has you covered.
Long before a young Virginia woman started an online petition to challenge Victoria's Secret to make "survivor" bras, 32-year-old Dana Donofree was already on it.
(So you could imagine Donofree's reaction when she heard the retail giant was considering a similar line earlier this year. It went something like, "Nooo..." Actually, she was glad the need was getting attention, but Nooo...)
In May, Victoria's Secret decided against making the bras, opting instead to fund cancer research.
Just as well. This is personal for Donofree.
Two days before her 29th birthday and a day before her bridal shower, Donofree learned that the lump she had found was cancer.
Over the next year, she put her life and her marriage on hold as she underwent a double mastectomy, reconstructive surgery and a grueling regimen of chemotherapy.
A year after their original date, she and her fiancé, Paul, finally got married, but as Donofree adjusted to her post-cancer life, she noticed some changes she hadn't expected.
"You start to realize that none of your clothing fits you anymore and that options, especially for undergarments, are pretty limited. It's pretty much just sports bras. We're young women, we still want to feel sexy and beautiful and as comfortable as they might be, a sports bra isn't it. I realized I was angry about it and then I thought, wait, I've been in fashion for years, I can do something about this."
So Donofree, who designs baby shoes, created Anaono, a line of lingerie specifically for breast-cancer survivors. The bras, which are priced around $50 and named after female warriors (tell me a bra named after Gaitana, who led her people against the Spanish colonization of Colombia, doesn't scream "power") will be available on her website later this year at anaono.com.
"For me, it's about helping a group of women that is unfortunately growing to have a voice," Donofree said.
So despite being busy with her upcoming launch, she recently made time to help a friend and fellow breast-cancer survivor, Tracy Birdsell, an LA-based photographer. Birdsell is creating a 1940s themed pin-up calendar featuring young female breast-cancer survivors. (For more info, check out her accompaning website lovetwelve.com)
Earlier this month, Birdsell was at the Mt. Airy Art Garage photographing four Philadelphia women who will be featured in the 2014 calendar, including Donofree.
When I stopped by, Birdsell was photographing Kelly DeVose, a striking 34-year-old who was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer two years ago.
In between makeup and fittings, DeVose recalled getting the news that she had cancer. "I remember the call like it was yesterday," she said. "I thought 'I'm dead.' "
"It was a tough road," she said. "But I vowed that if I ever had the chance, I'd do what I could to show other young women that they weren't alone."
The photos will be displayed in Philadelphia in October, when the calendar will go on sale. All proceeds go back to the campaign and to other cancer-support programs.
Birdsell, who was diagnosed with cancer when she was 29, said she chose the pinup theme because it reminded her of the pinups on the side of World War II aircraft that were used as distractions and lucky talismans.
"They were kind of a bit like guardian angels, right?" she said. "And so by presenting these women in such a powerful way, the message is that we are strong, but that we also have each other's backs."
That got me thinking about the young woman who started the Victoria's Secret campaign that went viral. I tracked Allana Maiden down at her job at a Virginia SPCA.
She said she was disappointed in Victoria's Secret's decision not to make the bras. She'd started the petition because her mother, a breast-cancer survivor, struggled to find bras that fit well. But she said she'd been getting some positive response from department stores about offering more options for cancer survivors.
I was glad she wasn't giving up. But I also wanted to let her know that another breast-cancer survivor was doing exactly what she had hoped.
"That's really great news," she said. "Really good news."
On Twitter: @NotesFromHel