Swimming (and surviving) with style
After facing not one, but two bouts of breast cancer, Poway resident and La Jolla native Dana Dinerman embarked on a positive, and stylish, way to help other survivors. Dinerman founded Hulabelle, a swimwear line for those who’ve had surgery related to breast cancer.
After she was diagnosed with stage-three breast cancer in 2011, the then-Bird Rock resident had a mastectomy and did not have reconstructive surgery. “When I was diagnosed, I wasn’t thinking of the future because I didn’t know if I would have a future. I didn’t think I was going to make it. I was pretty scared,” she said. “I was 34 years old with no family history and I had just had a baby (son Patrick, now 5).”
Leading up to her diagnosis, and in their first few months as new parents, Dinerman and her husband CJ would often walk their dog to WindanSea and go to the beach. “I adore WindanSea, and my son started swimming when he was six months old,” she said. “He’s a fish.”
The family also frequented the Coggan Pool at La Jolla High School.
After the diagnosis, beach visits stopped. But during treatment, Dinerman still took her son to the pool. “It was therapeutic for me because I didn’t have the energy to take him to the park and run around or take him to the beach, but at the pool I could sit and watch him for half an hour and let him swim,” she said.
After beating cancer once, Dinerman faced the unimaginable, and was diagnosed a second time, one year later. The second time, it was found behind her clavicle, and because of the nerves in that location, surgery was risky, and doctors were worried she would lose the use of her arm. “I told them I don’t care if I lose the arm completely, I have to be alive for my son,” she said.
Dinerman’s surgery was successful and she has been cancer-free ever since.
When she was ready to resume water activities herself, Dinerman was faced with an unexpected problem: what to wear. “Normal bathing suits are designed to show everything off, but I didn’t want to show anything off,” she said. “I had a missing breast (after the mastectomy) and you can’t hide the flatness of what’s missing. I went to a department store and they said they could sew a pocket into it for a prosthetic, but it still looks different from the other side, and I knew it would be obvious.”
So Dinerman went to a store that specializes in clothes that accommodate breast cancer survivors, but their selection was more for women in their 60s and 70s. With intimate knowledge of the needs of those with breast cancer, and searching for a project to take her mind off things, she decided to design some swimsuits of her own.
“I made some calls and found a pattern maker who used to work at Quiksilver and drew up some sketches,” she said. “Designing this line took my mind off the cancer and gave me a therapeutic project. People said to me, ‘well you have a son, wouldn’t that help?’ And in some ways it did, but in other ways it was hard for me to be a mother because I was so tired and needed help. On the days I needed to rest, I had something to do.”
After two years of research and development, the suits in her line, which she named Hulabelle, were produced. (Fun fact: The name Hulabelle comes from the Hula Girl-shaped bell she was given to ring and cheer on walkers in the Susan G. Komen Three-Day walk, which used to pass by her house in La Jolla.).
“The suits have a little more coverage up top and are cut a bit higher up under the armpit, so they feel more secure. They feature a built-in bra with pockets for a prosthetic or a boost to encourage symmetry,” she said. “I wore one of my suits this summer, it felt great.”
There are five pieces in the line: a top with optional straps, high-waist bottom, low-waist bottom, one-piece, swim shirt and wrap. “They’re cute! You can throw one on with some sandals and a wrap, and you’re good to go,” Dinerman said. “We’re adjusting a couple of things my production manager saw to make them more fun and trendy for women, but we hope to have everything done and ready to sell in November.”
Currently, the Hulabelle line is available on presale at hulabelle.com, but Dinerman said she hopes to host trunk shows in the near future. The price range is $65-$185. “Hopefully we have something ready before the holidays because people do go on vacation then,” she said. “One day, I would love to get this into department stores. I don’t want women to feel like after they’ve been through breast cancer that they are over there and the rest of the world is here. I want them to be able to shop where they shop and get what they need.”
A portion of all sales of the suits will go to the American Cancer Society Relay for Life, of which she is survivor chair. Find more information at hulabelle.com.