After work, Candace Sturgeon flipped on her VCR.
More than 11 million people had watched an hour earlier as the past few months of her life played out on ABC’s "Extreme Makeover."
They listened to her recount the taunts she received for her droopy eyes and pointy nose. They watched as a doctor marked up her body with a Sharpie. Finally, they saw how diet, $60,000 in surgeries and a little television magic transformed the 29-year-old Lincoln mother of two into a blond beauty.
But in Sturgeon’s living room, the tape was just about to play.
It was fall 2003, a few weeks after she'd arrived home from a 10-week stay in a west Hollywood hotel, where she recovered from her surgeries.
On the screen, it was months earlier. She looked nervous, sitting inside the office of a Beverly Hills plastic surgeon as he pressed a purple cheek implant against her face.
“Do they stay in place for a really long time?” she asked.
He assured her they would.
“I just don’t want 10 years later to have one here and one down here,” she said.
Nearly 10 years later, it's safe to say implants do stay in the same place.
Her life, on the other hand, did not.
The few months after her TV appearance were a blur. She was invited on the Wayne Brady show, then to an "Extreme Makeover" reunion special. She was interviewed by Larry King. She appeared in several magazines, though she didn’t find out about that until she went grocery shopping.
“I was standing in the checkout line, and I looked over at the magazine rack and saw my face,” she said. “They sold my story to the magazine and never told me.”
But that’s the nature of reality television, she said.
“I signed myself away.”
And so did a few dozen others who went under the knife at the same time.
Even now, the group stays in touch, she said, emailing and sending Facebook messages back and forth.
“We all bonded so much over the 10 weeks we were there,” she said.
Bonded over late-night conversations and their attempts at sneaking away from the hoard of handlers and cameramen to explore their temporary home.
Naturally, she's learned about their troubles transitioning back into their old lives.
“Some looked so much different from their spouse,” she said. “Some people took that and went with it. They wanted something better.”
So they divorced or cheated, or both -- the experiences of a few, she said, not the majority.
Sturgeon didn’t want to leave her husband, Joel, the man she fell in love with when she still was in her teens. Her experience was less a tough transition and more a phase, she said.
Her new face, new hair and new breasts gave her confidence. She wanted to go out every weekend, meet new people, live the early 20s lifestyle she never had.
“It was a little regression,” she said. “When I was that age, I never did that.”
It took a couple years, but the phase came to an end.
She was gliding through her 30s. Her oldest son started middle school. She was promoted at work.
People stopped recognizing her on the street. And ABC canceled the show.
Life was normal again, at least until 2010, when she first felt her muscles ache and discovered strange spots on her legs.
After a series of blood tests, her doctor referred her to a rheumatologist, who told her the antibodies in her blood were attacking healthy muscle tissue.
She was diagnosed with a rare chronic autoimmune disorder and put on a slew of medications, which again transformed her look.
“I blew up like a balloon,” she said. “I gained 30 pounds in three weeks.”
Just months later, her employer went bankrupt. She lost her job. The ladder she spent 10 years climbing collapsed underneath her.
“I was depressed,” she said.
But her life had been transformed before. And she knew there'd always be a recovery.
* * *
Sturgeon feels better now that her disorder is under control and she's off some of the medications.
The VHS tape of her transformation is gathering dust in her home.
"To be honest, I don't even have a VCR anymore," she said.
With a pair of sons, 16 and 9, a new job, an adjunct teaching gig at Southeast Community College and plans to get a master's degree, she wouldn't have time to watch the tape again, anyway.
She'd rather share her expertise in social work with college students than dwell on her 15 minutes of fame.
"I want to keep teaching," she said. "It's rewarding."