With a positive outlook, Benitez overcomes hardships

With a positive outlook, Benitez overcomes hardships

Reflecting on 20 years in business on Higginson Avenue, salon owner Carla Benitez says she has a lot to be grateful for. (Breeze photo by Nicole Dotzenrod)
Salon owner celebrates 20 years in business

LINCOLN – Her hair is shorter now, as a result of her cancer treatments, but Carla Benitez confidently rocks her new look. As a stylist, the loss of her hair could have felt like a loss of identity, but Benitez doesn’t think so. She’s just itching to color her curls.

It has been 20 years since she opened her own hair salon, Shear Extremz, on Higginson Avenue in Lincoln, and 2020 brought the most challenges.

Sitting in her salon last month, cancer-free on the 20th anniversary of her business, Benitez said there’s a lot to be grateful for.

“I think everything in life happens for a reason,” said Benitez, who moved to Rhode Island from Portugal when she was 8 years old. After a teacher pushed her to pursue beauty school, her career as a stylist began at home.

“My father made me a little salon in his house. I had a sink, a big mirror and chair, a little nail table and a little couch for clients,” she said.

Her father later influenced her to take the leap and open her shop on Higginson Avenue in 2001.

“Opening my own salon was always a goal. He influenced me to take a shot,” she said, tearing up. “He has always had my back.”

Twenty years later, Benitez said she still feels happy making other people happy.

“Making them feel good makes me feel good,” she said. “I love making people feel beautiful, and I love my job.”

Her clients, and the relationships fostered with them, drive her.

“I have an 83-year-old client who has been coming to me since she was 60,” she said. “Many of my clients have become my friends, and I’ve enjoyed being a part of their lives, too. They’ve been there for me and I’ve been there for them.”

That support became especially important when she was diagnosed with breast cancer in September of 2019. She had a lumpectomy, surgery to remove the cancerous tumor, two days before Thanksgiving.

In January, doctors recommended chemotherapy due to her age and a 17 percent chance of recurrence.

Benitez started chemo on March 3, and closed the salon on March 23, the same day as her second treatment. She finished treatments on May 4.

She said the pandemic forced her to stay home and recover, when she otherwise would have worked. Dedicated to the job, she said she couldn’t have imagined stepping away.

“Even though I was doing chemo, I still enjoyed every moment with my children,” she said. “As an on-the-go person, it really made me realize I need to slow down and really capture those special moments in life that go by so fast.”

She had an outpouring of support from her clients, who filled her house with flowers, Edible Arrangements, and gift baskets. “My house looked like a funeral parlor,” she joked. “It was all my clients … I felt the love.”

On June 1, Benitez was given the greenlight by officials to reopen the salon, and did so, on the same day as her first radiation treatment.

Today, she’s considered cancer-free.

“It’s been a big journey,” she said. “I’m much calmer with news now. Nothing phases me. You just can’t try to control every part and every moment, and I realize that now.”

Of the faithful clients who stuck with her over the years, some, she said, have passed away from breast cancer. Benitez said she remembers one such client when she looks in the mirror.

“Her hair looked just like mine does now,” she said.

The weekend of her diagnosis, Benitez visited The Cape with some friends.

“While there, I saw somebody that looked just like my client, and I just knew right there it was going to be OK,” she said. “I definitely have my army of guardian angels up there watching over me.”

Benitez lives in Cumberland with her husband, Jairo, and their sons Diego and Marcus.