TSA Forces Cancer Survivor to Show Prosthesis

By Suzanne Choney
|  Friday, Nov 19, 2010  |  Updated 4:30 PM PDT
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TSA Makes Woman Show Prosthetic Breast

One woman says a TSA agent made her show her prosthetic breast.

A longtime Charlotte, N.C., flight attendant and cancer survivor told a local television station  that she was forced to show her prosthetic breast during a pat-down.

Cathy Bossi, who works for U.S. Airways, said she received the pat-down after declining to do the full-body scan because of radiation concerns.

The TSA screener "put her full hand on my breast and said, 'What is this?' " Bossi told the station. "And I said, 'It's my prosthesis because I've had breast cancer.' And she said, 'Well, you'll need to show me that.' "

Bossi said she removed the prosthetic from her bra. She did not take the name of the agent, she said, "because it was just so horrific of an experience, I couldn't believe someone had done that to me. I'm a flight attendant. I was just trying to get to work."

For Americans who wear prosthetics — either because they are cancer survivors or have lost a limb — or who have undergone hip replacements or have a pacemaker, the humiliation of the TSA's new security procedures — choosing between a body scan or body search — is even worse.

Musa Mayer has worn a breast prosthesis for 21 years since her mastectomy and is used to the alarms it sets off at airport security. But nothing prepared her for the "invasive and embarrassing" experience of being patted down, poked and examined recently while passing through airport security at Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C.

"I asked the supervisor if she realized that there are 3 million women who have had breast cancer in the U.S., many of whom wear breast prostheses. Will each of us now have to undergo this humiliating, time-consuming routine every time we pass through one of these new body scanners?" she said in an e-mail to msnbc.com.

'I was so humiliated'
Marlene McCarthy of Rhode Island said she went through the body scanner and was told by a TSA agent to step aside. In "full view of everyone," McCarthy said in an e-mail, the agent "immediately put the back of her hand on my right side chest and I explained I wore a prosthesis.

"Then, she put her full hands ... one on top and one on the bottom of my 'breast' and moved the prosthesis left, right, up, down and said 'OK.' I was so humiliated.

"I went to the desk area and complained," McCarthy wrote. "The woman there was very nice and I asked her if the training included an understanding of how prosthetics are captured on the scanner and told her the pat-down is embarrassing. She said, 'We have never even had that discussion and I do the training for the TSA employees here, following the standard manual provided.' She said she will bring it up at their next meeting."

If she has to go through the scanner again, McCarthy said, "I am determined to put the prosthesis in the gray bucket," provided to travelers at the security check-ins for items such as jewelry.

"Let the TSA scanners be embarrassed .... not me anymore!" she wrote.

Sharon Kiss, 66, has a pacemaker, but also has to fly often for her work.

"During a recent enhanced pat-down, a screener cupped my breasts and felt my genitals," she said in an e-mail to msnbc.com "To 'clear my waistband' she put her hands down my pants and groped for the waistband of my underwear.

"I expressed humiliation and was told 'You have the choice not to fly.' "

The remark infuriated Kiss, who lives in Mendocino, Calif. "Extrapolate this to we should not provide curb cuts and ramps for people confined to wheelchairs because they can choose to stay home ... This a violation of civil rights. And because I have a disability, I should not be subjected to what is government-sanctioned sexual assault in order to board a plane."

No planned changes to security
So far, the government is not letting up on the enhanced screening program. TSA administrator John Pistole said this week at a Congressional hearing on the matter that "reasonable people can disagree" on how to properly balance safety at the nation's airports, but that the new security measures are necessary because of intelligence on latest attack methods that might be used by terrorists.

Gail Mengel, of Blue Springs, Mo., is used to being patted down; she had a hip replacement five years ago.

"I admit that I was relieved when I flew last week and was able to spend a few seconds in front of the X-ray screen in Seattle and Denver," she said in an e-mail to msnbc.com. "I have heard medical experts say the level of radiation will not hurt us. And frankly I was happy to realize I won't have my body touched, patted and rubbed anymore.

"Unfortunately last weekend, I arrived at the New Orleans airport and learned that airport staff (was) still being trained in using the X-ray machine. Because my hip replacement sets off the security buzzer, I was faced with the new regulations."

While she is "used to" being patted down, "this experience was certainly much more personal, uncomfortable and embarrassing," she said. "Every part of my body was touched. I do not want to be harmed by radiation, but the experience was painless and quick compared to what I have faced over the last five years. I support security measures but I also hope we can be assured of safe procedures."

One man, from Nashville, wrote in an e-mail that "as a handicapped person, I am sick and tired of being 'raped' at the security line. I lose my crutches and leg orthotics to be 'nuked' by the X-ray machine. Then manhandled by the pat-down, followed by chemical swabbing for 'possible explosives.' ...Enough is enough."

Said Mayer, the longtime breast cancer survivor: "I am outraged that I will now be forced to show my prosthesis to strangers, remove it and put in the X-ray bin for screening, or not to wear it at all whenever I fly. To me, this seems unfairly discriminatory and embarrassing for me, and for all breast cancer survivors."

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