As if this week’s stories in the Journal News don’t raise enough concerns or fears for breast cancer patients, this story does. My friend from Israel posted this story that is now circulating on the internet on my Facebook wall yesterday. I read it on my Blackberry quickly, and then just re-read it after another friend from LIVESTRONG Tweeted the wife’s side of the story.
In a nutshell, Lori Dorn had the same exact procedure I had done – a bilateral mastectomy with immediate reconstruction. She was flying domestically, as I will be in a couple of weeks, and her implants triggered a red flag. You see, these tissue expanders include a small, metallic component near the valve to allow the plastic surgeon to safely and repeatedly inject more and more saline into the expander. It’s a rather nifty device: The surgeon waves a magnetic doodad over the breast area, and as soon as it sets itself up, the doctor can mark exactly where the value is located.
However, the metallic piece that allows the expander to remain in place and the reconstruction process continue on safely, may set off the TSA’s screens. Now, as Lori Dorn can attest to, you can have a card with all the medical information with you so that the TSA is aware of the situation. I remember when I went in for some of the more extensive body scans, I was injected with radioactive material. As a result, I was given a card to present to police officers or other law enforcement officials if, for whatever reason, their Geiger counter detectors went off explaining that I was not carrying a dirty bomb.
Sadly, in this case, it appears that the TSA forgot what many of us cancer advocates work so hard to establish: That every tumor is attached to a person. That those people did not invite the disease, the side effects, the complications, but are doing their best to live with it. And that it is our responsibility as fellow human beings to, at the very least, recognize and support that struggle and not make life worse for them.
After all, anyone that attended a Judeo-Christian Sunday School has surely heard the phrase, “You shall not curse the deaf nor place a stumbling block before the blind.” Does that only prevent cruelty to the deaf and blind? No. This commandment, which goes beyond any G-dly rule, but a basic of humanity, demands of us to not be a burden to those who are already struggling. Don’t invite an alcoholic out for a drink. Don’t give a diabetic a box of irresistible chocolates. Don’t make life harder for another human being than it already is when you can avoid it.
While I’m a huge advocate of the separation between church & state, the former Sunday School teacher in me begs the TSA to allow me one last lesson with their agents at the gates. Subjecting a woman who has already lost her breasts, who now has these (very weird feeling) foreign objects below her muscle, where nothing had been before, 3-4 inch scars across what had been her breasts, who has lost her hair and has worked, undoubtedly, very hard to build the courage to leave the house and travel (and that can be very tough to do when your confidence is shattered!), to a public humiliation that could have been easily avoided, is shameful.
To be honest, I am now terrified of what may happen when my children and I go to La Guardia to fly to Austin for the LIVESTRONG Challenge. I know that on the flight back, it will be scary for me, as I’ll be returning bald (keep reading the blog this month and you’ll see why… ). I know to expect the stares, the finger pointing, etc. I was just about to start preparing myself for that.
Now, I’m scared that I’ll be subjected to the same embarrassment that Lori Dorn was, and with my two children in tow and not a husband or other companion to be by my side.
I’m all for taking precaution when it comes to security. I’ve lived in Israel, I’ve had bags checked, walked through scans, made sure not to leave bags unattended, been asked what appear to be obvious questions before boarding El Al flights, etc.
But is cruelty to a breast cancer patient really necessary in the big picture? I assure you, the El Al attendants know how to get the answers they need to assure safety without the kind of humiliation that Lori Dorn endured.