Covington uses her story as a breast cancer survivor to help others
Life for Tiffany Smith Covington changed one morning 14 years ago when she found a lump in her breast.
The Bennettsville native remembered it like it was yesterday.
"I was getting ready for work," she said. "I did a self-breast exam in the shower. I found a lump. I just brushed it off."
At the time, she was 28, had two small children and a marriage not in a good place.
Covington decided to wait. When her grandmother died in August of 2003, she decided to see a doctor.
After her appointment in November of 2003, she had a biopsy a week later.
On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving of that year, she learned that she had breast cancer.
"My whole entire world came crumbling down," she said. "I asked 'why me.' I was young. I was healthy."
Her doctor gave her a list of oncologists but she didn't have any medical insurance. She saw a doctor in Florence, who told her that he would do a mastectomy, reconstruction and they would go from there.
"That didn't sit well with me," Covington said.
She drove back to Society Hill where her doctor was and went to the office without an appointment.
And there she cried to her doctor, who told her there was help out there.
Covington was set up with an appointment with Dr. Joseph Pearson at McLeod in January of 2004.
The strategy was to remove the lump and see if a mastectomy would be needed.
Covington was one of the youngest patients that he had ever had at the time with breast cancer.
Her two daughters, A'Lauanya and Za'Quanza, were ages four and six.
She had the lump removed on Feb. 4, 2004. Covington had 22 lymph nodes removed. Eleven of them tested positive. The cancer had started going outside of her margins and she was entering into stage four.
The doctor said he had gotten everything out but she would need extensive chemotherapy.
Two weeks after the surgery, Covington started six weeks of chemotherapy.
For her, it was terrible, she couldn't eat and her immune system was terrible.
She had chemotherapy on Monday and Wednesday of each week with an injection during the next week to keep white blood cells.
Her hair came out during the first week and her daughter, Za'Quanza noticed. Covington had to sit down and explain to both what was happening to her.
By the second week, she had lost 10 pounds and everything she ate tasted like metal.
Her children were her biggest inspiration.
As she continued, it started to take a toll on her and Covington didn't want to live anymore because she couldn't handle the chemotherapy. She called her mother and told her she couldn't do it.
"She told me that all I had to do was pray and believe," Covington said.
She remembered looking at her children that day after school and realized no one else would be able to take care of them.
So she prayed to God, felt a connection and knew God was going to take care of her.
At this point, she had two weeks left of her six-week chemotherapy. Then her doctor recommended she do an additional eight more weeks of a stronger chemotherapy to make sure they got rid of the cancer.
"I cried like a baby in there but I knew God had me," she said.
Family helped her with her children and her aunt took her back and forth for treatments.
But the last two weeks of chemotherapy, her aunt got a job. Covington didn't know what she was going to do so she prayed.
"I knew I had come too far to not continue to go. I asked God to get me there and back," she said.
She took her children with her to chemotherapy.
"They would sit in the chair and watch me take my chemotherapy," Covington remembered. "They were constantly talking to me and telling me it was going to be okay. At that time, they were my biggest cheerleaders."
As a single mom, she tried to make sure her daughters didn't see her break down. But at night in bed, she would cry.
After starting chemotherapy in March, she finished the first week of September. Then she started 10 radiation treatments.
"I don't know which one was worse," Covington said.
By the time there were eight weeks left, she had to stop for two weeks because it was burning her skin so bad.
Once she completed radiation, she was cancer-free. For the first five years, she had to have a checkup every six months. Now each year, she has a yearly checkup. October has become her second birthday.
"I celebrate being here," she said.
Covington shares her story because she feels her testimony will be someone else's encouragement.
"I noticed a lot of people tend to hide they have cancer. It is nothing to be ashamed of and nothing you did," she said.
Faith and a good support system are crucial in fighting cancer. She noted her family was amazing in her fight.
She encouraged the newly diagnosed.
"It is going to be rough," she said. "You have faith and believe. You have to have people who will walk with you and keep you encouraged."