By Lora Scripps
Cassandra Johnson is the type of person many work a lifetime to become.
A warrior. A mother of three who is chock-full of spirit, rooted in love and grounded in faith.
It hasn’t been an easy road.
In 2009, at age 38, she had a stroke.
“I had always dealt with high blood pressure,” she said. “I had the stroke and it took out my left side.”
She was in the hospital for months. During her stay, doctors discovered she had breast cancer.
“They ended up having to do a mastectomy, which took it to a whole other level,” she said. “It had seeped into my bones. Of course, I didn’t know what was going on.”
She was also diagnosed with lymphedema — blockage of the lymph nodes — and had to have her lymph nodes removed.
After being released and able to go home, Cassandra heard about a lady named Lou Covington from a friend. She told her about Lou C’s Boutique, a special boutique that’s aim is to help women look and feel better during their journey with cancer.
Lou C’s Boutique
Lou C’s Boutique first opened in 2004. Lou and her husband transformed a house into a unique boutique. It is located at 207 Coman St.
Lou said her mother gave her the inspiration.
“My mother had colon cancer,” she said. “But, you know cancer is cancer.”
Her mother would tell her about friends who would have to travel outside Athens to get the necessities they needed while working to overcome different forms of cancer.
Lou thought to herself, “I love people and I try to make people feel better about themselves, ” why not open a place where she could help someone else.
“To me mental health is just as important as bone health or breast care or anything else,” Lou said. “Without your mental health and strength in God, you can’t get through this.”
At first, Cassandra didn’t have insurance or Medicaid for the items she needed. So, she didn’t have the chance to meet Lou right away.
“I had to go through the ropes to get that in order and working,” she said.
During that time she would travel to the Athens-Limestone Hospital Wellness Center. There she met another woman who wanted to introduce her to Lou. Cassandra took her up on the offer.
It’s no wonder Cassandra and Lou became fast friends. In truth, the two, simply, share the same attributes.
“When I found her I found a great lady,” Cassandra said.
She visited the boutique. Lou fit Cassandra with a compression sleeve. The sleeve would be used to help with blood flow and circulation in her arm.
Unfortunately, Cassandra’s insurance didn’t cover the sleeve she needed.
“She helped me anyway,” Cassandra said. “She was willing to work with me.”
Other items had to wait.
“Finally, things started coming around for Cassandra,” Lou said, adding she offered to pay out-of-pocket.
Lou let Cassandra pay what she could. The rest came from Lou’s Angel Closet.
The Angel Closet, created by Lou, contains items for women that insurance won’t cover. It is available to women who are willing to do all they can to pay for their services, but who may be struggling financially.
Cassandra said her first meeting with Lou opened up a whole new world to her.
Cassandra has three children, now ages, 22, 17 and 9. Her health problems brought change for everyone.
“For me, my whole household, my family — we all came together in times when we needed to,” a teary-eyed Cassandra said. “We pulled together and by the grace of God we made it through.”
She admitted she honestly didn’t know if she was going to make it. “I keep on looking towards Heaven,” she said. “That gets me through a lot.”
It is a story of faith that touches Lou’s heart.
Cassandra offered to pay when she couldn’t, said Lou. “That’s what makes giving so awesome,” she said. “You can tell when someone is deserving. She said she would save up and do without. That’s not acceptable to me.
“People say ‘Lou isn’t your job depressing?’ and I say ‘No’ because I meet the most awesome women,” Lou said. “She (Cassandra) is not in here saying, ‘Poor, pitiful me.’”
Cassandra, a choir and youth director at Peace Missionary Baptist Church hasn’t let her situation slow her down.
“I’m determined I’m going to do everything to the best of my ability,” Cassandra said. “I might operate from a wheelchair, but I’m going to get there some kind of way. Things are going great for me now.”
Lou said that attitude and the attitude of so many women she comes in contact with has, at times, made her feel ashamed of herself.
However, Lou has nothing to be ashamed of. Like Cassandra, she too, is a warrior — a warrior for other women who are in the midst of the most trying times in their lives.
“Cancer is a terrible thing, but it also draws a lot of miracles,” Lou said. “It pulls people together.
“I want this to be the best part of their experience that it can be,” she said. “I want to make it a good time instead of dreading it. A lot of ladies go without.”
The women Lou helps believe she is special.
“She is such a unique and fabulous lady who is always willing to help out,” Cassandra said.
Not only does Lou have the boutique, but she also organizes The Pink Ribbon Hope Chest survivor group. The group meets at 6 p.m. the third Tuesday of each month at Athens-Limestone Hospital.
Alice Cosco said when the Athens Ladies Civitan group heard about Lou C’s they wanted to do all they could to help.
As a member of a group whose main focus is community, she suggested helping Lou to the Ladies Civitan board. “I felt this was a really good cause to give back to women in the community,” Alice said.
She told the group about Lou helping others out of her own pocket.
The group recently gave Lou $700 to help purchase supplies — supplies so important to breast cancer patients in the recovery process.
The donation came from the club’s newly formed Helen Hammond Cancer Fund. Hammond was a member of the club who just last week lost her three-year battle with lung cancer.
“We really felt strongly about giving back to deserving women in this community,” Alice said.
“The Ladies Civitan have many options to give and they chose this one,” Lou said.
“I am just overwhelmed and speechless.”
Others in the community have helped as well including the East Limestone Fire Department, Walk Awhile in my Shoes, and a number of personal donors.
The donations go directly to the shop and on to people who Stephanie Mitchell said “deserve to have these types of services.”
“Lou C’s Boutique is a place where women can go to look and feel better on their journey with cancer,” Stephanie said.
Stephanie, a certified Zumba instructor, is organizing a Zumba Party to help support breast cancer fighters. The event will take place from 5:30-7:30 p.m. April 17, at the Valley Event Center. Tickets are $5. Donations will be given to Lou C’s Boutique. Participants don’t have to participate in Zumba fitness to attend.
“People pulling together make it all worthwhile,” Lou said. “In one way or another we are all in this together and no one should go through this alone. We need to be aware all the time.
“I will do all I can to help those fighting cancer and with the help of the community — they should not be alone or be without.”