- Associated Press - Sunday, June 1, 2014

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) - Red lights make Wendy Somerset’s stomach turn. Maybe this time, she wishes, other drivers won’t stare or snap pictures.

Maybe today someone won’t ask her whether she’s wearing a mask or say they love her stage makeup. Maybe today she’ll be able to wave to a child without him crying.

Or maybe she won’t go outside today.

Outside, she shoves in earbuds and ducks her head. At home, like the Phantom inside his opera house, she doesn’t get those glances or feel that hurt.

A vicious attack during a robbery in 2006 left Somerset’s nose with sinking pits where cartilage had disintegrated. Surgeries and a lingering infection further flattened her nose.

Instead of a full nose, a flat, gray, scarred nub blemished the middle of the 44-year-old Jacksonville woman’s face.

She’s had about six surgeries in the last year to re-create her lost cartilage.

Unlike the plastic surgeries seen in movies or reality TV shows, the ones where surgeons try to create awe-inspiring noses, Somerset just wants a nose that won’t be a magnet for stares.

“That would be lovely - to look myself in the mirror and see myself,” she said. “I haven’t seen myself in seven years.”

Everything about Somerset’s life changed in the years after her attack.

She lost one career but found another. She lost a marriage but found another relationship.

Despite financial difficulties and painful surgical reconstructions, she senses her struggles are only a season of her life, and spring is just around the corner.

Somerset adjusts her makeup case to make more room in her hospital bag. Milk thistle vitamins, check. Listerine mouthwash, check. Antidepressants, check.

Days away from her May 14 surgery, she’d soon leave the operating room with a bulging spot between her eyes. It wouldn’t be a finished nose, but it would have potential - like the foundation of a house.

“I have a really good feeling this time. I’m not scared at all,” she said. “I can start over and have a life again.”

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