Sylvia Bencomo did not plan for this kind of retirement.
In 1996, just as her Air Force career was about to end, she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“It was nothing that I was expecting, it just happened,” Bencomo said.
While still overseas, she had surgery in Okinawa, Japan, and then had chemotherapy in Hawaii. After all her treatment, she beat the cancer. When she retired, her family settled in New Mexico and she took a job at Kirtland Air Force Base.
That’s when Bencomo received some bad news.
“My oldest daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer,” Bencomo said.
The moment was a pivot point for Bencomo. She was thinking about opening up Angel Wellness Boutique, but she didn’t want to leave a good job.
“It’s hard to make that step when you’re working and you have a good job to just quit.” Bencomo said.
But soon she was transferred and saw the opportunity.
“I wasn’t too happy there so I decided to resign and that is when I decided to open up this shop.” Bencomo said.
‘Like walking into your own house’
Angel Wellness Boutique caters mostly to women undergoing cancer treatment.
There are products like wigs, turbans, and lotions to help the skin after radiation treatment.
Bencomo designed her shop to be extremely welcoming.
“I wanted it to be really cozy and comforting. I tried to make it like a house. I didn’t want to make it look like a medical facility,” Bencomo said.
She also offers speciality items for women fighting breast cancer, like breast forms, specially made camisoles, post-surgical tops and swimwear.
She also has private fitting sessions for those who would like it.
“I wanted them to come to a shop where all their needs will be met without having them go to different locations,” says Bencomo “They are already going through a lot as it is. They can leave my place with everything that they are going to be needing.”
Sales with emotional support
Bencomo not only has items for cancer patients, but she offers a place where her clients receive support through their tough time.
“I will talk to them. I can relate to them, and I just kind of put them at ease,” says Bencomo “I don’t make any recommendations. I just share my story, just so they feel at ease.”
She offers stories about her own experience with breast cancer helping her clients feel more comfortable.
Jennifer Salyer, a former client of Bencomo’s, recalls the time she came into Angel Wellness Boutique.
“The first time I walked in the store I was feeling a way I had never felt before.’’ Salyer said. “That morning approximately half of my hair had fallen out. I was scared, nervous, and very sad.”
She came in with her daughter with the intention of purchasing a wig.
Salyer tried them on, but did not like the way it felt. She thought the look did not suit her.
“I just looked stupid. They felt gross and just not me. I was so discouraged,” Salyer said.
Salyer said Bencomo was patient and understanding during her time of need. She offered her personal experiences with breast cancer.
“She explained that she and her daughter had both had breast cancer. It was so nice talking to someone who truly understood what I was going through,” Salyer said.
Salyer said after she left the store feeling better about her situation.
Not only because there was a place that catered to her during her cancer treatments, but there was someone that could relate to her situation.
There was a time Bencomo called Salyer after her mastectomy.
“Something that was so nice and that really shows how much Sylvia truly cares is that she called me a few days after I had my mastectomy just to see how I was doing.” Salyer said.
After Salyer’s first visit, she has kept Bencomo updated on her cancer treatments.
Bencomo said there have been times when former clients come into the shop to update her on their current condition. She also receives updates on her Facebook profile.
As far as growing her clientele, Bencomo visits clinics and clients are referred to her by doctors.
“I do visit some clinic and I take my brochures and my business cards,” Bencomo said. “I also get some referrals, and some women get my business card from the doctors.”
People also find her through internet searches, and her Facebook account.
“They find me on the web…whatever they are looking for, they will google it and they will find me,” Bencomo said.
Listen to our audio interview and follow Alisha on Twitter.