Saturday, May 9, 2015

The TSA and breast cancer

 I spent a hectic weekend in Seattle, seeing the sights with my husband and daughter. All the time, I wondered if this would be the last time. As with many women at this stage, I do not look sick and I try my damndest to not act sick. This is especially important when flying. I have about as much chance (or less) of having a medical emergency on board an airplane as the next person but I have not forgotten this incident and its warning to not look sick

It seems, however, that terminally ill patients have a hidden homing beacon that is picked up by officials at airports with the very specific agenda of making your travel even more miserable. Intellectually, I know that anyone can be singled out but when we are balancing our disease and a normal life, being singled out feels catastrophic. Airport screening after breast surgery is a tale from Hell. Have you noticed that breast cancer organizations have not stepped up to help here? To circumnavigate this problem and enable me to pass through security without being treated like a drug dealer, I ponied up the $, did the background check and got a Trusted Traveler card.

I have sometimes had to have extra screening for explosive residue on my hands etc. That, in and of itself, is a little disturbing. I mean, are they saying that their detailed background checks are not reliable? I’d have a bit more confidence if it wasn’t for articles like and However, TSA, knock yourself out.

Seattle airport (seatac), however, decided I needed extra special screening with the full body scanner. Well, yes that is not going to happen after my breast cancer surgery left me unable to raise my arm above my head. Now, I bought myself a grope (er, pat down).

  • Off with your shoes and put them through the scanner.
  • Don’t touch your luggage. Translation: You are not allowed to retrieve any documentation
  • Would you like a private screening? No thank you. I need witnesses.
  • Anything hurt or sensitive? How do you answer that question when you have metastases in your spine, hips, pleural cavity and liver?

I call over the supervisor and ask if this is really necessary. I have already passed a background check, walked through a metal detector, fly about twice a month, and had nothing in my luggage to cause alarm.

She assured me it was. I was selected at random. Meltdown time. The poor screener doing the pat down was now also trying not to cry with me. She kept apologizing. I honestly think she was too terrified to touch me in case I broke.

I complained of course. I got a form letter back saying (in essence)  that they can do what they like.

I actually feel less safe knowing the TSA is wasting resources to protect the skies by groping triple-checked, chemo-toting one-breasted women. 

1 comment:

  1. I had an upsetting incident in New York. I travelled when I still had my expanders and set off the machines. I had to be taken in a back room and prove that the metal was under my skin. The airport was covered in pink ribbons, it was October, with all of their awareness I couldn't understand how they had never heard of a breast expander. I too had a meltdown. A local news station offered to meet me when I landed and cover my story, but I was too upset. :( *hugs*