Real Life

Closet passion: Cancer survivor's fashion fix

This young businesswoman beat her disease in style

By Kristina Rapley
Growing up, Donielle Brooke wasn’t sure what she had to offer the world. Being dyslexic, the Aucklander always felt out of place and sometimes struggled at high school.
Her interest in fashion and beauty led Donielle to train as a hairdresser. But two years ago, her life and career were turned upside down when, during a routine mole check, a specialist noticed a lump on her neck, which turned out to be an aggressive, fast-spreading thyroid cancer.
“I was told that a couple more weeks and it would have been a totally different story,” the 28-year-old remembers. The next year involved surgery to remove her thyroid and the cancer cells that had spread to her lymph nodes, as well as radioactive iodine therapy, which left her bedridden.
While the treatment was successful, the experience was traumatic for Donielle. She tells, “I still think about it every day. It’s a constant battle in my mind, but I’m also very conscious that not everyone is as lucky as I am.”
Two years ago, the fashionista was fighting a frightening, fast-spreading thyroid cancer.
It was during her recovery that she started a Facebook group called Designer Wardrobe, a place where Kiwi girls could sell and buy high-quality clothing. Donielle explains, “I’d always wanted someone to start a website that sold amazing second-hand clothes and I kept waiting, thinking surely someone would do it, but nobody did.”
Designer Wardrobe took off and before long, it wasn’t just Donielle and her extended friendship group swapping their designer threads – it was also their 40,000 new friends!
“It was an amazing distraction and it gave me a purpose,” she smiles. “It made me feel good to think I was helping girls find a special dress for their ball or their 21st and not have to spend a fortune.”
Donielle’s unique idea helped her move on from a year of gruelling cancer treatments.
Last year, after a short-lived return to hairdressing, Donielle decided the group had outgrown Facebook. Together with her ex-boyfriend Aiden Bartlett, 27, she established a website, designerwardrobe.co.nz, and took part in a three-month business boot camp.
The pair now both work full-time on the website – which has 50,000 members and will soon launch in Australia – and have recently debuted a new app.
“If someone had told me two years ago, while I was fighting cancer, that my dream would come true like this, I’m not sure if I would have believed them!” laughs Donielle. “It’s my passion and it’s amazing to think I’m setting an example for other girls out there who doubt themselves. You really can do anything when you put your heart and soul into it.”

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