Breast Cancer Survivors Slam TSA Over “Humiliating” Pat Downs

In case after case, agency is subjecting cancer survivors to horrific public embarrassment

Steve Watson
Oct 9, 2012

Breast cancer survivor Marcia Deitrick has described a recent experience at the hands of the TSA as “humiliating”, and has called for screeners to be properly trained to accommodate millions of others like her.

Deitrick, who underwent bilateral mastectomies in 2007, told reporters that screeners at Kansas City International Airport took issue with her body scars after she passed through a body scanner.

One screener radioed a superior to report “an anomaly,” before asking Deitrick, who has silicone breast implants and 20 inches of scar tissue from chemotherapy, if she was wearing something on her chest.

“Then she ran the backs of her hands around my breasts in full view of everybody,” Deitrick told KCTV 5 news in an interview. “She was nice, she was polite. But she didn’t ask me if I wanted a private screening.”

“I actually stood there thinking these people probably think I’m doing something wrong, that either there’s something wrong with my body or I’ve done something wrong,” Deitrick said.

“I do not want somebody touching me,” Deitrick added, noting that the TSA conducting pat downs on people who have endured such procedures “adds insult to injury”.


“I was just so shocked that I was numb and as the days went by, I got angry. I thought, ‘I don’t want this to happen to me again, and I don’t want it to happen to another woman either.’” Deitrick said in another interview with ABC News 10.

“I don’t think that the TSA agents across the country are being uniformly and properly trained to be able to know what to look at and what to look for and what to expect when a breast cancer survivor comes through a body scanner,” Deitrick said.

“I’m not an anomaly. I’m the reality of breast cancer just like those other 2.9 million women are, and I think that we deserve better when we go through airport screening. We deserve to have TSA screeners who know what they’re looking at,” she said.

The TSA released a general statement in response to the case, but did not comment on whether screeners will be trained to accommodate those who have had life saving surgeries.

Deitrick is not the first cancer survivor to be humiliated at the hands of the TSA, and will certainly not be the last.

In direct response to Deitrick’s case, more survivors have come forward with TSA horror stories:

After enduring “several inconsistent and insensitive airport security checks,” breast cancer survivor Electra Paskett created a survivor’s medical ID card that could be shown to TSA screeners. Paskett said she felt her privacy and dignity were violated almost every time she encountered the TSA, and did not want others to undergo the same experience.

Despite the TSA’s insistence that it works with breast cancer organizations and encourages such awareness projects, survivor Lori Dorn reported her own TSA experience at New York’s JFK airport, where a TSA agent refused to look at her medical ID card:

“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 TSA Supervisor.”

“At what point does the need for security eclipse human dignity and compassion?” asked Dorn on her blog.

In another case reported earlier this year, Cindy Gates, a cancer survivor who had a mastectomy two and a half years ago, was interrogated at Sky Harbor Airport and forced to remove her prosthetic breast in public.

“I told them when I went through the scanner that it would show up differently,” Gates said. The agent wanted to do a pat down but I asked for a private screening and she said ‘no.’ She then started feeling my breast.”

In yet another case, a Charlotte-area flight attendant was forced by a TSA agent to show her prosthetic breast during a pat-down in late 2010.

“The only reason I’m bringing this up,” Cathy Bossi told the media at the time, “is that I do believe the government is getting too intrusive with our bodies. I do believe in security. I honest to God believe in security. But I do believe it has gone too far.”

Breast cancer survivor Nancy Stordahl reported on her blog earlier this year that TSA agents seem to have little, if any, understanding of what to expect when they encounter survivors.

“…it seems like there should be more consistency in what’s allowed and what isn’t. It seems like TSA workers should be better trained to recognize such things as lymphedema sleeves. It seems as if a little more sensitivity should be part of their job training.” Stordahl wrote following uncomfortable experiences of her own.

Such people with so called “anomolies” have long been targetd by the TSA. When ProPublica’s Michael Grabell filed a Freedom of Information Act request back in 2008, which asked the agency to reveal details of passenger complaints, he found a cancer survivor had complained that a screener had asked her to remove her prosthetic breast to be swabbed for explosives. Grabell’s findings were not published until earlier this year because it took the TSA 4 years to respond to the FOIA request.

Breast Cancer survivors represent just a fraction of the people who have injuries or disabilities, yet have been mistreated by the TSA.

Of course, what else should we expect from an agency that demonstrateably and admittedly uses pat-downs as forms of punishment?

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Steve Watson is the London based writer and editor for Alex Jones’, and He has a Masters Degree in International Relations from the School of Politics at The University of Nottingham in England.
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