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Fighting cancer with business

Lou Covington stands inside Lou C's Boutique. Covington started the boutique and cancer support group after the death of her mother in 2002.

Every October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. And every October, people talk about it, raise money for it and it’s generally forgotten in the mainstream until the next year.

But for some, the month hits closer to home more than others.

Lou Covington knows about the issue all too well. After losing her mother, Katheryn Keyes, to colon cancer in 2002, Covington said she then started to see life from a different angle.

“When you hear the word cancer, you think ‘I’m dying’ and there’s no hope,” Covington said. “But through studies and resource and support groups, you can see there is life after cancer. Being positive and having strong faith can get you through a lot of things.”

She opened Lou C’s Boutique in 2004, a store catered to women with cancer. She sells wigs, turbans, breast prosthesis and hospital gowns, among other items. Covington also provides support services to women in the North Alabama area, which includes, Madison, Athens, Huntsville and Decatur.

“When you have been diagnosed with cancer, your whole life changes,” she said. “These are the most powerful women I’ve ever met. To go through that, and not be angry or bitter, gives hope to others and shows their courage. It makes you appreciate small things like the rain and past due bills.”

She said a lot of women believe they are the only ones going through it, but everyone is in it together. She said the group gathers to share hints, stories and talk about new available drugs. She also hosts private parties for women to have an environment to try on wigs and talk about the issue with friends.

“We have lots of fun in our meetings,” she said. “It’s not doom and gloom, but funny stories about dogs stealing breast prosthetics the preacher coming in while the breast form is laying on the table. The support group lets you know that you’re not alone. No matter how you take it, we’re going to try our best to help you see the bright side of cancer.”

She has a resource center in her boutique with literature from the American Cancer Society that provides women and their families with information on what to do, and how to deal with cancer.

Covington also noted how expensive it is to deal with cancer. She said she’s seen women who had lived with it for years and did not know that insurance pays for items like mastectomy bras, prosthetics and wigs.

She does take health insurance and Medicaid. For women who can’t afford the items in her shop, Covington has an angel closet for ladies who are uninsured.

“I’ve been able to help a lot of ladies that couldn’t afford bras, wigs and breast forms,” she said. “Breast cancer does not discriminate, it gets everyone from doctors to homeless people. If you have a need and there’s anything I can do, I’ll do it. This is like a ministry for me.”

Covington said she is a certified mastectomy fitter and takes continuing education classes in order to maintain insurance coverage and her accreditation.

“My biggest point that I want to get through to everybody is that through any crisis in your life, you are never ever alone,” she said. “There is always someone who has gone through what you have gone through, and we should be there for each other.

On a personal level, Covington said the cancer has changed her life as well.

She had never been close to her mother until the diagnosis. She said anger was her initial feeling when she had to move back to Alabama from Houston, but the experience brought them closer together more than ever, and then the bitterness was gone.

“At the end, we bonded without saying anything,” Covington said. “She didn’t really talk about feelings much. I just laid there in bed with her. Through cancer, I got to know her and understand why she was the way she was.”

Doctors said the cancer was so advanced in Keyes, they said to just let her live. Keyes never underwent chemotherapy or radiation.

“I knew that I was going to lose her some day, but because she had been diagnosed, I had to realize that she needed me and I needed her to need me,” Covington said. “But, that was a wonderful thing that came out of the cancer.”

She said it’s best to always have a sense of humor about things, sad or happy, because, once diagnosed, there is nothing anyone can do to change the results, just deal with it the best anyone can.

“The last three months were the hardest,” she said. “We kept her comfortable and talked to her all day. We had a beautiful goodbye.”

Through it all, Covington said it comes down to simply raising awareness, for men and women, whether it’s breast, colon or any other type of cancer. She said it’s a hard process for anyone to experience, but it makes people stronger and gain a new perspective on life.

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