Breast Cancer: The TSA does it again

It turns out that there is some metal in “tissue expanders,” which stretch skin so that a woman with a mastectomy can have an inplant for her breast reconstruction.  You don’t really need to know what the TSA can make of this, but here goes anyway:

From the NY Times:

The latest case involves Lori Dorn, a 44-year-old New York woman who learned in March that she had breast cancer. After tests revealed a high genetic risk for cancer, Ms. Dorn underwent a bilateral mastectomy in April as well as a grueling chemotherapy treatment that just ended in September. As part of her breast reconstruction, tissue expanders were implanted to stretch her skin before placement of a permanent breast implant.

But Ms. Dorn says that last week, on her way to San Francisco to visit friends, she was treated with hostility and humiliated after the tissue expanders were detected by a body scanning machine at Kennedy Airport in New York. She said the workers from the Transportation Security Administration would not let her retrieve a medical card explaining the implants, a situation she wrote about on her blog.

I told her that I was not comfortable with having my breasts touched, and that I had a card in my wallet that explains the type of expanders, serial numbers and my doctor’s information and asked to retrieve it. This request was denied. Instead, she called over a female supervisor who told me the exam had to take place. I was again told that I could not retrieve the card and needed to submit to a physical exam in order to be cleared. She then said, “And if we don’t clear you, you don’t fly,” loud enough for other passengers to hear. And they did. And they stared at the bald woman being yelled at by a T.S.A. supervisor.

I have been through emotional and physical hell this past year due to breast cancer…. I understand the need for safety when flying, but there is also a need for those responsible to be compassionate and sensitive to each situation.

Ms. Dorn said she is not opposed to being patted down, but believes she should have been given a chance to explain her medical situation and taken to a private area for the pat-down. She said a private pat-down was never offered.

She also says she still has several painful areas on her chest where her body is still healing. “The areas are very sensitive with or without touch,” she wrote in an e-mail.

If you go to the NY Times article you can read the TSA’s argument that proper procedure was followed.

Also:  it turns out that the TSA has issued an apology.  They also explain they have in place now a training routine that informs agents about dealing with prostheses.  It does, they say, require critical thinking.  Sounds like an opportunity for unemployed philosophers.

3 thoughts on “Breast Cancer: The TSA does it again

  1. I am horrified to hear about this and truly sorry for the awful experience she went through. I have a prosthetic hip and in the past 7 years have experienced countless TSA pat-downs in way too many airports to count (not to mention pat-downs in other countries that were far more peremptory including some by male military personnel). To me the new body scanning machines are a blessing because I can avoid the pat-downs which have become increasingly invasive. Still, I am happy to report that I have always been treated with respect by the TSA security personnel and they have always asked me (a) if I wanted a private screening and (b) if I had any areas near the implant that were sensitive to touch. It is true that these days they just don’t accept any kind of medical information sheets because these are, I’m told, just too easy to fake. Everyone thinks I should be able to get by with such a sheet or information card but it’s not possible.

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