Guest Post by Alison Mae Hinch, AO Ambassador since 2015
In 2014, I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 34 years old. After having my bilateral mastectomy on my birthday, and then making it through the treatment, I discovered there are lots of other things I would never have expected from having cancer; like finding a bra for my newly reconstructed chest. That was such a pain in the ass (and chest).
Your bra options after a mastectomy are really limited. Most doctors tell you not to wear anything, and if you do, make sure it's nothing with an underwire. Or you can actually just wear sports bras.
Sports bras? That’s like giving a Beauty Queen a baseball cap and telling her it's just as good as a crown.
Thankfully AnaOno is changing all of that, and opening up a new conversation about what we can and can't wear. And I am so grateful to get the chance to be a part of it.
One of the things your oncologist tells you to do - ok, demands - is join a support group. At first I was hesitant; this is what family was for right? I didn't need support. But, oh was I oh so wrong! No one in my family or circle of friends understood what was going on in my head. So, I eventually I came to my senses (and to avoid losing them) and went to a Young Survivors Coalition (YSC) dinner.
The dinner was only a few weeks before my mastectomy, and I was so happy I went. It was much better to talk to someone firsthand who had actually gone through what I was about to rather than read about it online, or hear a second-hand horror story about someone's great aunt who has lost her mind and now loves to pelt loved ones with her prosthesis.
I also met a ton of cool ladies through YSC. We all pushed each other when we needed encouragement, and celebrated each milestone and victory. And, I joined the YSC Facebook page. When I saw Dana posted a model call on the page that she needed a few survivors for a fashion show in North Carolina, I was totally in. I was going to be near Charlotte to meet with one of my clients around the time of the show and figured why not? Unfortunately, that particular opportunity never panned out, but I told Dana keep me in mind for modeling or any design work she may need (as a freelance graphic designer by trade). However, I am not sure she truly expected my twisted sense of humor.
Finally the call I'd been hoping for came. Honestly when Dana asked me to be a part of her editorial campaign, I was a bit overwhelmed. First with excitement and second with the "holy crap, talk about silver linings" thoughts that went through my head. The last thing I ever thought when I was drifting off into a drug-induced sleep for my double mastectomy was "When all this is over, I'm going to be a lingerie model."
Yet, here I was.
When I spoke with her about the shoot and what to expect, one of my questions was where it would be located. At the time Dana and her team were still scouting for a perfect spot. And I just happened to have the perfect place. I mentioned to her that a CEO I had worked for in the past had just listed his family's farm estate for sale in South Jersey. And it was currently in show condition and vacant. Perfect timing and perfect location for a lingerie shoot.
The day of the shoot was just so much fun. I borrowed my husband's Star Wars Chewbacca Robe for it - something to wear between takes or while waiting on set. We had hair and make up done by two amazing pros. Dana painted my nails; mostly because I had forgotten to do it beforehand. #chemobrain There was a great spread of food, but at first I was a little too nervous to eat.
My chosen look was the Sandi Bra and soon-to-be launched Miena Robe with Drain Pouch Belt. Up until the photoshoot, I just didn't wear a bra. I couldn't find one I liked. Thanks to my surgeries, the bras either hurt or didn't fit right or stay in place. I really didn't need one after reconstruction, so when when I was able to go without, I just didn't wear one. But this made me self-conscious. I was missing that extra layer of protection. It was not normal to me to not have that layer.
The shoot was actually the first time I'd ever tried on an AnaOno bra, and for the first time I didn't feel broken. I was wearing something pretty and comfortable. It was like a rare unicorn of undergarments. (And I really mean that, they aren't paying me to say these things. I was surprised at how wonderful wearing a bra could make me feel about myself again).
It’s silly to think that something made with less then a yard of fabric can give you that sense of normalcy and confidence back. But it really did. After I put it on, any nerves I had about being photographed in my underwear vanished.
As a freelancer, I work from home, so I have a pretty flexible schedule, which definitely works out when I have doctor appointments or Dana calls. One particular time she needed someone for a shoot with FedEx [ed. note: As part of AnaOno's First Place win in the FedEx Small Business Grant contest, the company did an advertorial of AnaOno and its global sourcing]. I made sure the kids were taken care of after school and ran up to Philly to be there at her studio. The crew from FedEx was super nice, and thanked me multiple times for being able to make it at the last minute. (As if I'd have said no). This time I kept my clothes on, but Dana had to paint my nails again. I was interviewed by the FedEx crew for the story, and they shot b-roll of us messing around with fabric and lingerie. The crew was funny; they were not accustomed to saying "panties" so much and just started making odd bird-like noises instead of "bra" or "panty."
By the time the Steel Pony event rolled around, I had been able to contribute not just my body to AnaOno, but design work as well; namely helping with the new packaging design. So, when I was asked to help out again, this time with social media and set up the night of the event, I was on it. Ironically, once again I had a client meeting just around the corner of the Philadelphia Fabric Row location. This was the first pop up shop that I 'd ever been a part of, and it was AnaOno's first pop-up shop, too. And it was an interesting experience. I got to see how everything was set up and displayed for sale. I got to interact with women asking about our products, and I was even be able to offer my own story to someone who was about to undergo a mastectomy. The turnout was great. There was food, wine and lots of trying-on of clothes. I was able to pick up an amazing necklace and earrings. And, it was a no-guilt splurge because a portion of sales from the event were donated to AnaOno's nonprofit partner Living Beyond Breast Cancer.
Once again Dana and AnaOno were heading out of town right where I had clients to meet. So, I used that convenient opportunity to go on a road trip with Dana to the ASTRO (American Society of Radiation Oncology) Conference and help out as she introduced the MAKEMERRY Collection to those who work in the radiation treatment industry. This was the first medical conference for AnaOno, and certainly for me, too, LOL!
The drive up to Boston from Philly was a glamorous dinner of Taco Bell (apparently an AnaOno staple indulgence while road-tripping) and avoidance of vehicle fires thanks to me being a horrible navigator and the two of us missing three important turns. I would blame chemo brain again, but this time, I was just too focused on my tacos. We made it just in time to set up for the next day's event. We also talked about how we were not sure what to expect because we were so different than the booths all around us.
We met so many people during the convention. It was amazing to hear the radiation techs tell us how they had nothing to recommend to their patients during treatment, and that they were all so excited for the MAKEMERRY Collection by AnaOno. We had a few tears and lots of hugs. The response was amazing, and I was so happy to be apart of it. It really is incredible to witness the power of AnaOno, not just by putting it on, but by talking about it with others, and seeing their reactions. It's truly indescribable.
"We need a song."
I got this request from Dana a few days before the World of Pink Fall Fashion Festival event. I felt silly suggesting our runway walk song be one from a former Disney star, but I knew it was the right one. I sent her the link and waited for a reply, but I heard nothing back. When we got to the location for rehearsal, Dana was talking to the DJ. It was then she turned and asked me "What was the song you picked?" I told the DJ and in my head I was thinking, oh I hope she listened to it. I hope this song is right!
The night was amazing. There were 500 people in attendance, and I was gonna walk in front of them in a bra and tutu. In my head, throughout the night, I was still hoping that song I chose was going to be okay. We had our hair and makeup done. I got to rock a six-inch fauxhawk. We all looked like serious rock stars.
The three of us, myself, and fellow Ambassadors Melanie and Sandi were the finale. We were debuting a new AnaOno bra exclusively for A World of Pink, a mastectomy boutique in Long Island. We all waited in the wings, whispering, laughing, swishing our tutus. Then, I heard the trumpets and that rumble of the bass from Demi Lovato's Confident. It was our turn. The song was perfect. I had no reason to worry. I was the first one out on stage and once again the nerves vanished.
Dana was dancing around off-stage and lip-syncing along with the song. And once again Dana let me surprise myself because I never would have thought I would be so comfortable and confident In front of 500 people in just my lingerie and a tutu.
Dana didn't even have to paint my nails, either.
When we shot at the farmhouse, we didn't know how are images were going to be used. We did know they were photographing the first editorial since the company launched in 2014, so that was exciting enough. When we finally got to see the images, it was a WOW moment. All the women at the shoot looked amazing.
What we didn't expect was the campaign AnaOno was going to run with the images. And how much press it would receive. Like Dana and AnaOno will tell you, yes we are all “Real Women” [Insert Eye Roll]. Though, I much prefer "Authentic Women"
The #IAmAnaOno campaign talking about us "authentic women" and using our lookbook images from the farmhouse started with a blog post:
None of the women did this because they fit a body type or skin color. None of the women were under contract or paid a hefty modeling fee. None of the women auditioned for the part.
All of the women were affected by breast cancer.
I have often been asked if I use real women on the AnaOno website. I have to take a pause to keep myself from snapping “As opposed to fake women?”
The women you’ve seen have had two breasts, one breast, no breasts and new breasts. They’ve taken time out of their lives as mothers, bartenders, teachers, accountants, medical billers, lawyers, receptionists, flight attendants and the like to spend a day with us, getting their hair and makeup done, and wearing our products. All so that any one of you around the globe can see our bras on someone we hope looks like you.
The best part is none of us were touched up, with the exception removing something simple like a blemish or bruise. It feels great for me to say "Yeah, that's me." And not have people look at me sideways trying to make sense of airbrush from reality.
And then the press just started rolling in. I still get excited when I see myself in the online media posts or on Twitter. It's crazy. And all because of breast cancer.
I honestly couldn't be happier with how this disease, these friends, everything all turned out. I would encourage anyone to try these AnaOno bras even if you haven't been affected by breast cancer. They are so comfortable I fall asleep in mine all the time.
I even fell asleep wearing the bra from the runway show. I forgot I had it on. And, that wasn't chemo brain at all.
Alison Mae Hinch is an expert waffle-maker and consummate hockey mom to both her son and daughter. When not wrangling her pups, Pixel (a pitbull) and Voxel (a chihuahua) she can be found at her computer coming up with new designs or finding the most obscure videos and photos on the Internet. You can find her online here or on Instagram @alisonmaehinch. This guest post is an expanded version of a post she wrote previously for her own site.
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