Monday, November 22, 2010

TSA Scans and Breast Cancer

Dear Hawaii,

You are the most magical place on earth. Yes, even more magical than Disneyland. I've not seen you for a while, and I miss the smell of plumeria and how the flowers seem to fall from the sky. I miss the tiny raindrops blowing down from the hills, the sparkling rainbows, and the sounds of the surf and gentle Hawaiian music.

Hawaii, you are the home I've always wanted, the place I feel most alive. I'd hoped, once I was done with cancer treatment, healed and back to health, I would celebrate my survival with a vacation in beautiful Maui, where some of my happiest memories lie.

But, I will not be visiting you again. You see, to get to you, I now have to submit to an assault. I love you, but not enough to survive a physical violation to get to you.

It seems that at airports now, all flyers have to be scanned in such a way as to show our bodies naked. And, people with implantable medical devices, such as silicone breast implants used in reconstruction, are selected for secondary, "enhanced" pat-downs, because we are out of the norm.

My darling Hawaii, you may not be aware that since August, women on the various breast cancer boards have posted about the new screening, and how they are being pulled out for pat-downs, over and over again, due to having a prosthesis or an implant. No one escapes.  There has just been a news story about a flight attendant who had to pull out her prosthesis during an airport screening, but she isn't the only one - many women have posted similar experiences. I've been reading first person stories about this for months, as these scanners have come online at airport after airport. Women with implants due to cancer, who have suffered enough, are getting stopped and selected for searches. The machines are supposedly sensitive enough to read the serial numbers on our implants - and we carry cards that match those numbers - yet nobody has been trained to let us through or allow us to bypass this last violation of our bodies.

These security checks are humiliating and intrusive. Once you fail the scan (or admit you have an implanted device) you must submit to an enhanced pat-down. You may not change your mind and leave. The TSA "agent" will touch your body, your breasts and your genitals. They run their fingers through your hair, down your face, under your clothing. These are not, by the way, trained police professionals who suspect that you have violated a law. They don't really think you are a boobie bomber.   These are $12.00 an hour government drones whose jobs don't even require a high school diploma. They don't care that you have done nothing (except get sick.)  They aren't paid to make intelligent judgment calls, they just do what they are told, reasonable or not.  Some hate it, I'm sure.  Some get their jollies from it, I'm sure.

I'm also sure that patting down 50 year old mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers who are cancer survivors goes far beyond what is necessary to keep us safe from terrorists.  I'm sure that our founders would be horrified at what this nation is coming to.

We cancer survivors are being selected for assault, our privacy violated, completely against our will, for no other reason than we had a disease and chose to hide or repair our disfigurement.  That has to be some sort of HIPPA or disability rights violation.

Doesn't it?

I love you, my beautiful Hawaii. But not enough to be strip-searched to get to you. Not enough to have the government cup my breasts, stick their gloved fingers down my backside and up into my crotch - merely because I had cancer.

I gave up my breasts to this disease. I gave up my hair. I gave up a year and a half of my life to sickness and treatment. I will not give up my dignity.

Good-bye, Hawaii.

And, Good-bye, Sweet America.

Tell me this isn't intrusive (as well as impressive)

For more, check out Fly With Dignity.



  1. Ann, I'm not going right along with you.

    My mom, who had a mastectomy in February, is flying to Texas next week. I hope that she has a good experience, but I'm really worried. :(

  2. It's such a violation. If your mom wears a prosthesis, she can take it out and put it in her carry-on and she may skip the enhanced pat-down. If she has an implant, she likely won't escape it. If she has a traveling companion, make sure they record the pat-down to ensure it is done as respectfully as possible for a rape.

  3. I had bilateral mastectomies with immediate DIEP reconstruction in April. I flew out of San Jose in October, went through this machine, and was then patted down around my breasts. I understand they find scar tissue suspicious. After all the cancer drama this year and surgical recovery, I have been naked in front of a large number of people, but I found this pat down very, very uncomfortable and invasive.

    Yet, I would opt out of the machines in the future, and go for the yucky pat down, because this type of radiation can raise the risk of skin cancer in cancer survivors.

  4. Pixica, although I didn't address it in my post, I am aware of the radiation problem. We cancer patients have had plenty of radiation and more can truly be dangerous for us.

    I don't want to make recommendations about how to handle it because I don't really think it should happen. It's gone too far. It's far different than taking off your shoes, and cancer patients are being singled out.

    I think that everybody should stop flying. Put enough pressure on the airlines so that they pressure the TSA to stop this. The airline industry is the only one who can make this go away. We have to hit their bottom line for changes to happen. The government doesn't care, in fact, they said those photos were deleted but Gizmodo has hundreds of them. Obama defended this yesterday. So, don't fly.

  5. I absolutely agree with you, Ann. It has gone too far. Unfortunately, it isn't always possible to boycott flying. I believe that quite soon, as more people fly during the holidays, the polls will show a big difference in thinking we 'need' this to be safe. And in the meantime, our elected officials need to know our point of view!

    Best wishes with your recovery and final results!

  6. Thanks for saying it so well Ann.

    I'm a former frequent business traveler and I will no longer fly as long as the choices are 1) the porn machine 2) a groping from somebody who finally managed to pass the GED. My decision limits my employment choices but this is too important to cave.

    TSA policy violates the US Constitution and is ineffective. Awesome combo.

    The thought of being forced to pull out my prosthesis in public and in front of my manager makes me too angry for words.

    As long as these rules are in place, I will not fly.

    Period. No exceptions.

    No job is worth surrendering my rights - and certainly no vacation is worth being treated like a criminal and getting felt up by someone whose only other career option was fast food.

  7. Anonymous, I'm going to write to the airline I would have used to fly to Hawaii, and the hotel I would have stayed at, to let them know. I suggest you - and everybody else - do the same. Unless they know how much business they've lost, they won't care.

  8. Great idea.

    I've already emailed the TSA; I will write to the airline as well as anyone else that will be financially impacted.

  9. After I had gotten everything on the scanning belt, including my and my son's shoes, I took a deep breath thinking the hard part was over. Except I was told I'd be going through the "machine." This was in Denver a couple weeks ago, and I was confused. I looked around for the regular doorway scanner to walk through and wondered why I couldn't do that instead. Don't they give you a choice? I didn't know I could say no to the radiation (I sure would have!!!!) But that doesn't mean I'd want to be groped, etc. Not flying sounds like a good idea to me, too. LOL because my husband has been talking about buying a GMC motorcoach for years. He might be on to something!

    Also, I found this cool blog you might like:

  10. I an American living in Australia - and a recent breast cancer survivor. I'd planned a trip back to my hometown in May to visit family/friends and take part in the annual Race for the Cure held there. Now I'm re-thinking those plans.

  11. Hi Ann, I found your blog via and have been reading it with interest.

    I am a frequent flier - domestic and overseas - for my job, and have had numerous 'pat downs' and gone through the scanner machines. So far I have never had an egregious pat down under my clothing (!) or groping private areas. It is always a woman who has done it, and perhaps I've just been lucky, or maybe my tolerance level is higher, but I have not ever felt violated in the ways other women have reported.

    Then again, until this month, I had also not traveled as a cancer survivor. I had a mastectomy last week, and at Christmas time I will be flying to my parents' house with a tissue expander. I wonder what it will be like to travel as someone with a medical implant. My husband will be with me and I'll be sure he is right there by my side to be sure they handle it respectfully.

    Thanks for posting your thoughts. Having just been in Hawaii for the first time (for my honeymoon), it is a tragedy to feel you need to give it up because of bad TSA experiences. :(

  12. Annon @ November 22, 2010 4:50 PM,

    The real tragedy here is that so many Americans are willing to give up their rights for the illusion of safety.

    I'm sorry you think you should depend on your husband to handle the situation for you. I take care of myself. Furthermore, he can't do anything anyway.

    I'm not sure when you last traveled but the "enhanced pat down" absolutely includes touching the breasts and groin.

    I would not use the words "bad experience" to describe what the TSA does. I would use words like

    - unconstitutional
    - humiliating
    - ineffective

  13. Unconstitutional being the main word. We have a 4th amendment right against unreasonable searches. It is unreasonable to assume that because you, or I, have an implantable medical device, we are potential terrorists, yet that is what is happening. It is unreasonable to have people look at us naked and feel us up.

    To anonymous - your husband is going to stand there and watch as somebody feels your breasts to make sure that they aren't explosives. Now, you may not have a bad experience - it may be done respectfully - but it shouldn't be done at all. You may not be bothered by it, but millions of us are.

    20 million people have taken their shoes off at airports the past few years. How many explosives have they found in shoes? None. What's next? Full cavity searches, because some terrorist is threatening to put a bomb up his butt? It has to stop somewhere, and here is where the line should be drawn.

    I don't want anyone feeling my breasts and crotch when I've done nothing wrong but get cancer - and you, Dear Reader, shouldn't either.

  14. To Anonymous who posted Nov 23, 7:53am in response to me:

    There are two questions here: the constitutionality/legality of TSA security procedures, and the actual experience of going through TSA security. I was speaking only to the latter issue in my prior comment.

    I absolutely respect the fact that different women have had different experiences. In no way was I trying to invalidate or criticize anyone else; I was simply explaining my own experience.

    That being said, I do wish you would refrain from making judgments about me ("depending" on my husband and possibly not having traveled recently to understand what's going on). I'm quite independent and travel probably 20 times per year for work on my own, most recently to/from West Africa, a trip from which I returned home just 2 days before my mastectomy last Monday. I'd say I'm pretty familiar with TSA security.

    As for my husband being there when we travel at Christmas time, I don't need to "depend" on him for anything other than being an eye witness if anything like what you all have described should happen now that I have an implanted medical device to explain. All the easier to hold TSA accountable, no?

    My original comments in no way suggested that I agree with TSA procedures or think they are particularly effective. I get as annoyed as anyone else at some of their stupid rules, and some of the attitudes I encounter. Even so, I thought it was useful to offer up that my *experience* of going through TSA security has been different, and not as bad as others have experienced -- or fear.

    I did not expect to be attacked or criticized by posting my experience here. Apologies if I've hit some nerve - I'm happy to stay away if my perspective is upsetting or unwanted.

  15. Anon who posted right above me: if you are responding to me, than I'm sorry. I didn't meant to criticize you or your husband. I only meant to point out that he can't stop the pat-down, and it sounded like you were thinking because he was there you could be protected.

    He can make them know you are being watched - but if you are in an airport that has these scanners, then somebody is going to "touch your junk" with your husband/father/child's permission or no.

    For all: I allow anonymous comments on this blog because I believe (unlike the TSA) in the constitution. You may comment on any topic I post, and whether I agree or disagree is irrelevant - whether you identify yourself or not is irrelevant. Now, the blogging software locks out open comments on older posts unless I approve them, but I always allow them. My only two exceptions are name-calling and spam. Those are deleted.

    Smart people can have a discussion and not come to the same conclusions. But, that is what makes us smart - being open to others ideas.

    o, I hope nobody leaves because of this. In fact, I hope this comment area grows.

  16. Ann, thank you for allowing anonymous comments.

    I'm the anon the other anon was discussing.

    Other anon seems to be well traveled, in a happy marriage, and probably an interesting person who I would probably like if I met her in real life.

    I'm sorry she's upset, but I didn't attack her; we just have a fundamental disagreement.

    I'm always open to discussing ideas with people who hold different opinions but I stand by every word I wrote.

    Other anon, I'm sorry if I upset you. We just disagree.

  17. The pat downs are a bit intrusive. They are just begging to violate HIPPA. Its cruel that women are being forced to share their diagnosis with complete strangers who may or may not be accusing them of criminal activity on top of touching them in sensitive areas. I have not been to an airport lately so I have not seen these pat downs but I hope they at least have the decency to have women check women.

  18. Anon here again. Other anon, you're right we'd probably get along well in person. :)

    Sorry if I overreacted to your comment about my comment. And agree with Ann we can certainly disagree, though I think we are more on the same page than our comments may appear.

    I hadn't even considered the HIPAA angle on all of this - being made to disclose confidential medical information to total strangers. Oddly, I find that more viscerally upsetting than the constitutional angle - and not that I don't love the Constitution! Maybe I'm just weird in what upsets me and what doesn't.

    Okay - Ann, thanks for providing the space to have the conversation. Anon, thanks for responding.

    And happy Thanksgiving to all...

  19. Not to get political but to clarify I feel I should share that if this matter ever came up for a legal opinion it would be decided that the pat downs are not a violation of the 4th ammendment as many claim. They are totally covered by the PATRIOT Act (which trampled on our 4th ammendment rights nearly a decade ago). The pat downs have been going for a while, this is just the first time the rest of us have to endure what a few have been dealing with all along.

    And I am sorry for all of the women who feel violated. I believe that with time, and better training the process will improve.

  20. I disagree that this falls under the Patriot Act, which, according to Wikipedia,

    "dramatically reduced restrictions on law enforcement agencies' ability to search telephone, e-mail communications, medical, financial, and other records; eased restrictions on foreign intelligence gathering within the United States; expanded the Secretary of the Treasury’s authority to regulate financial transactions, particularly those involving foreign individuals and entities; and broadened the discretion of law enforcement and immigration authorities in detaining and deporting immigrants suspected of terrorism-related acts. The act also expanded the definition of terrorism to include domestic terrorism, thus enlarging the number of activities to which the USA PATRIOT Act’s expanded law enforcement powers could be applied."

    None of that was ever meant to apply to every member of the American public who travel, just ease restrictions on getting information on suspected terrorists.

    Today it was announced they want to put more of these nudie scanners in train, bus, and other public transportation areas, as well as federal buildings. It's a clear 4th amendment violation and in reading the patriot act, I don't see how it can possibly qualify as part of that.

  21. Virtually all disabled individuals are being targeted: those with artificial limbs, implants, wheelchairs.... None of this is right. Imagine me, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse; can you imagine how triggering it would be for me to go through the porno-scanner or be 'patted-down'? I am not trying to minimize the pain of anyone on this forum, but rather trying to say that you are not alone: there are many of us out here who are suffering the same fate. We have to bond together and fight TSA!

  22. I read about you in our local paper this morning (Milwaukee).
    I have had the full pat down three times since November 1. There were no machines yet, so I did not have a choice. I have an artificial left leg and have always been subject to a search. The new pat down was not as some are making it out to be. The agent did not touch my genitals. They were empathetic and talked about each step as they did it.
    Does that mean I like it? Absolutely not...but stupid terrorists planted this idea and our government reacted. If nothing had changed and some jerk set off an explosive, the same people whining about this would be up in arms.
    I don't understand why your doctor (or any doctor) cannot provide a note or card, as they do with patients who have had knee replacements, so that there would not have to be the suspicions of a scar and implant meaning something else.
    And while it is a huge invasion of privacy, if I let it stop me from enjoying a vacation, then I am the loser and the bad guys win.
    Best wishes with for prolonged health!

  23. re: "If nothing had changed and some jerk set off an explosive, the same people whining about this would be up in arms."

    You are wrong.

    I am one of those "same people".

    It is sad and infuriating that you view the defense of our Constitutional rights as "whining".

    Nothing is 100%. Congratulations! You've given up your rights and your plane could still blow up.

    Cancer patients, and former cancer patients, who are well aware that there are no guarantees on staying alive, are being singled out for this ineffective Security Theater.

    Were you paying attention when Ann (scroll up to read it) said that these virtual strip search scanners are coming to subways, buses, trains, courthouses, and they've already been proposed for some federal buildings? If you don't believe it, Google it. The head of DHS said so; read it for yourself.

    In the same entry you say it's not as bad as people have been saying, your genitals weren't touched this month, and that it's a huge invasion of privacy -- and one that you are willing to tolerate for the sake of going on vacation. You said all this in the SAME entry?!

    I am not willing to be photographed naked, groped, be separated from my things, have my shampoo taken away, and have my "breasts" touched. It doesn't matter if I wear my prosthesis or put them in my luggage -- the TSA "agents" are going to touch them either way. I'm not going to carry a note from my doctor (or any doctor) explaining my scars, my lack of breasts, my fake breasts, or anything else! I'm not taking off my shoes. I'm not taking off my jacket. I'm not taking my laptops out of my bag. I'm not putting my hands in the air. I'm not emptying my pockets. I will NOT be treated like a criminal.

    A desire to board a commercial aircraft is not probable cause!

    People who blow up planes and who try to blow up planes are not "jerks" they are terrorists.

    The terrorists win when a most of the people fall over and say it's okay to take away our freedom and snivel to be kept safe because they are frightened. The purpose of terrorism to to scare everyone.

    I agree with Ann when she wrote, "Good-bye, Sweet America." and I am very sad and very angry that we have come to this.

    Brave Americans fought and died to protect our freedoms. I love this country. I am sad and angry that so many people don't appreciate what they have and are willing to give it up so easily -- are willing to be groped for the sake of a vacation.

    But - it is not over!

    As the New Hampshire license plate says:
    Live Free or Die

    The only way we're going to keep our rights is by fighting for them.

    If you agree, keep fighting.

    Don't travel while these unconstitutional "polices" are in place. Write the TSA, DHS, the president, your congressman, and your senator. Write a real letter; it carries more weight than an email.

    As Ann suggested, write the airlines and hotels you would have used to let them know how much business they are missing.

    WebEx and GoToMeeting are not replacements for face to face meetings and I know it's difficult to substitute web conferences for customers and prospects in these challenging economic times -- but it must be done to defend our liberty. If a face to face is unavoidable, drive or fly in a private aircraft.

  24. I came to respond to Anon from Wisconsin, (didn't know I was in the paper there) but I see the anon above me did my job for me. Thank you.

    I will be doing one more post on this topic, addressing what I believe is the biggest problem - people willing to give up everything to feel "safe," which is an illusion. But, I'm going to eat some turkey first. :)

  25. Goodbye Sweet America happened a long time ago. I grew up pretty naive, thinking that progress and technology and a forward thinking society would mean a pretty good life for someone who is educated and willing to work hard.
    Instead, our America has become a selfish, me-first society, where we kill 'inconvenient' babies, spend a crapload of money researching such diseases as AIDS, which is spread through the sinfulness of mankind, which deters from funding research and finding cures for other diseases, such as breast cancer.
    The harder I work, the more I am penalized, being forced by my government to support everyone else who does not want to work, anyone and his cousin who can sneak over the border and receive free medical benefits and college tuition (I have two in college and I pay for their entire education).
    You need to rejoice in the fact that you have life, due to the treatment you have been able to receive. Life isn't fair anyway you look at it. You had cancer, I lost a took me well into my 30s before I was really able to accept that as who I am and that it didn't matter what people think. I really don't care if someone knows about my disability. I wasted too much time being angry.
    I'm not going to let the gov't ruin my vacation plans ever! We went to DC the day after the subway bombing plot was discovered. I expected a lot more security and that's what there was.
    If people are going to cower and not carry on with business as usual, then our nation is one flush further into the toilet.
    Don't know if you are a spiritual person, but the book of Revelation NEVER mentions a western power....and I think that is because we won't be one in the end times. Look at our debt to China. Look at all of the outsourcing of most any kind of job to places outside of our country. We've brought this on ourselves and this TSA groping doesn't even scratch the surface of where we are headed.
    And to the person that responded to my first email I say, no one is guaranteed safety in any circumstance. That is the reality of living. But writing a letter to my president, congressman, or any other Washington idiot isn't going to solve the problem....remember, THEY created it. :)
    Anonymous Tom in Wisconsin

  26. I'm a bit late responding here, but I feel compelled to pass on a story I read in the news. I don't know if we can post links here, so please Google if you want to read the original story.

    A airline pilot was critical of the TSA and posted some videos on this topic on YouTube. He was requested to surrender his state issued concealed carry permit and his right to continue to hold his state issued permit is now subject to a review of the federal government.

    Are you comfortable with the trend here?

  27. thank Al Qaida!
    According to news reports, British spy satellites intercepted al-Qaida communications from Pakistan and Yemen, discussing plans to use women as suicide bombers using explosives concealed in breast implants.
    March 26th 2010-

  28. I can't say I agree with everything you've said here, but at least you wrote it well, unlike lots of crappy bloggers out there!


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