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Profile: When surgery is more than just cosmetic

She got to the point where every time she looked in the mirror she thought of Ally McBeal, the satirical legal drama that played out on nighttime TV. It wasn't about any particular character or legal issue, but about the episode where the whole law firm became fascinated by the "wattle," that turkey-like appendage of loose skin that often hangs from the necks of women of a certain age or weight loss.

Like the 66-year-old woman interviewed for this story, they just happen to have a wattle.

"I didn't have a fat face, just this huge wattle," says the Seaside woman who chooses to remain anonymous. "I got tired of looking in the mirror. When I wanted to wear a pretty lace blouse or a turtleneck sweater, it would hang over the top. It just didn't look good, so I stopped wearing them."

Until she decided to do something about it.

"I had breast cancer in 1996-97," she says. "After you've lived through that and are on your way to recovery, you start looking for ways to feel vital again. I decided to have my double chin removed, and I've never regretted it."

Under the care of plastic surgeon David Morwood, vice chair of the Maxillofacial/Plastic/Dental division at Community Hospital, she was in and out of surgery the same day. She experienced no bruising and healed quickly; and although she had anticipated a four-to-six-week wait for the swelling to fully disappear, she experienced a much shorter recovery.

"If it's important to you and you can afford it, do it," she says. "That's the whole thing of it. I've always said 'If something bothers you, and you can take care of it, do.' When you look in the mirror and it seems like you're tired all the time or you just don't feel good about yourself, if there are things you can do about it, you should. I'm not the one who runs in for every little thing, but if it's significant enough, do it. You can feel liberated."

Though she celebrated her 48th wedding anniversary with her husband last year, she is quick to point out she had the cosmetic surgery not to please her husband but to satisfy herself. "He said it was up to me what I did; he liked me either way. But he knew I would feel better, so he was very supportive of my decision."

Her decision was not, however, entered into lightly. In fact, she let a couple of years pass between the time she began to investigate the surgery and the day she actually had it done.

"I recommend that anyone check it out very seriously," she says. "Get ideas from others and from your doctor, look at pictures, and get a good idea of what you really want and why. Stand in front of the mirror and pull back on the area in question. If you like it better when it's not there, then go talk to your doctor."

She also recommends confirming that the doctor is board-certified, has a lot of experience, and has hospital privileges if needed.

"You don't have to make up your mind right away; maybe six months will go by before you decide to have the work done," she says. "Make sure you are realistic and that your expectations are within a normal range. Life isn't likely to turn upside down and change for you just because you had cosmetic surgery, but it can make you feel brighter and more vibrant."

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