Strong, mid-morning light filters through the spacious front windows of Chicago’s Rage Hair Salon—the beauty salon where Claudia “Sunny” Hayes runs her prosperous eyelash business, and where we meet for a chat before the arrival of her first clients of the day. Sunny started Eye Slay Minks in the summer of 2016 at just 23 years old. Two years later, she would be diagnosed with stage II invasive ductal carcinoma breast cancer.
Sunny first knew something was wrong when she felt a lump in her chest. Her partner’s mom, a two-time breast cancer survivor, suggested she visit the doctor. “It all happened so fast […] it didn’t dawn on me—what I was about to go through—until I started chemotherapy,” she says. That’s when she knew it was imperative for her to stay focused on her career.
Sunny’s brilliant smile and her joyful personality has earned her a loyal social media following, which was very helpful in launching her business. Eye Slay Minks offers eyelash extensions as well as training classes to help others launch their own careers in the beauty trade.
Being diagnosed with cancer could have upended everything she had worked for, but it didn’t. “That first, like eight weeks [of treatment] was crazy, like I was rethinking my whole entire business,” Sunny says. “I’m knowing my clients were still very supportive, but it was fluctuating—like they think I’m sick, so they don’t want to bother me, but it’s like, can you come when I’m not sick?” Her incredible work ethic and passion for entrepreneurship meant she was suffering under the strains of regular chemotherapy sessions. “More than anything, I just wanted to come to work,” Sunny says.
But after switching medications, Sunny fell into the routine of weekly chemotherapy sessions, and started to take back control of her life. She continued to see lash clients and set her sights even higher. “My business is going to go as far as I want it to go,” Sunny says. “It’s going to go so much farther than just doing lashes. Right now, I’m still in the beginning of my career, you know? I’m getting up there, but in due time this is going to go far.”
Sunny hopes to grow her business into makeup application and hair as well as lash extensions. And she’s confident that once she finishes chemotherapy and doctor’s declare her NED, she can devote the time and energy to her career. “I’m going to be able to do what I want to do as far as expanding my business. Right now, it’s really hard to make a lot of moves when you’ve got to go to the doctor every weekend, knocked out tired for twelve hours,” Sunny says. “I’m just really ready for all of this to be over.”
Before starting Eye Slay Minks, Sunny worked an unsatisfying retail job. “I was waking up everyday, hating going to work,” Sunny remembers. But then: “I went and got my lashes done, and that’s what started it.” She immediately found a class online, and started training to get certified in giving eyelash extensions. “I took the class, and I quit my job the same day,” says Sunny. She found joy in the freedom of being her own boss, and knew she had to trust herself to make this work. “A self-investment is the best investment,” Sunny says.
She has this to share with others hoping to start their own business: “Set goals […] When you write your goals down, when you can see what you want, it’s easier to manifest them.” Sunny credits her success to hard work and staying focused. “Entrepreneurship isn’t easy. Goals, and consistency, and just focusing on getting the job done, that’s like 100 percent success guaranteed,” she says. It isn’t difficult when you’re doing something you love. “I meet new people every day, and I’m totally a people person […] I’m running into women all day long and […] they love their lashes. [They say], ‘Oh, my god; I look like a totally different person,’ [and] it’s like, I did that,” Sunny says.
Through social media, Sunny has been able to connect with other cancer fighters. “So many people send me messages, and girls they send me pictures with [their] bald head, and I’m like, ‘Girl, you fine,” Sunny laughs. “I’m just here to encourage the next person, because now that is me, I feel like staying focused is the best thing you can do.”
A cancer diagnosis almost threw a wrench in her plans, but she’s hopeful she’ll be able to come out the other side with a fresh perspective on living a happy, healthy, and successful life. “I try not to let it affect my attitude, my day, my positivity,” Sunny says. After going through cancer, she’s proud of this takeaway: “I think I’m much stronger than I was before getting diagnosed,” Sunny begins. “I thought that when they first told me [about the cancer] these months will be the worst times in my life. I’ll be depressed and […] scared. I didn’t know what to expect, but I’m way stronger than I thought I was.”