Breast Cancer, Prostheses, and International Travel

November 8, 2018
Bonnie Annis
Bonnie Annis

Bonnie Annis is a breast cancer survivor, diagnosed in 2014 with stage 2b invasive ductal carcinoma with metastasis to the lymph nodes. She is an avid photographer, freelance writer/blogger, wife, mother and grandmother.

Traveling internationally has its challenges but for those with prosthetics, it's a little more complicated.

There are so many things to fear when one has breast cancer but international travel shouldn't be one of them. However, on my first trip out of the country since being diagnosed with breast cancer, I was fearful. And the thing I most feared was a silly thing. I was fearful of being able to pass through security.

Most of the larger airports have very sophisticated scanning machines that help provide the best security. Not only do the airports rely on these highly sensitive machines, they also employ and train their staff to perform quick and efficient body scans of all passengers. For those touched by breast cancer, these scans can prove daunting as missing body parts or the addition of synthetic body parts cause security personnel to become a little more diligent in their security procedures but in today's world, who can blame them.

I was very surprised when my own country of origin scrutinized my chest more than the countries I was visiting. I'd taken precautions in advance to avoid public humiliation. Printing out the TSA security card, I'd filled out the information and presented the card immediately upon arriving at the security gate for our local airport. Apparently, the staff don't see these often and didn't know how to react. One security officer consulted another until they determined I would need special attention. Although they did not make a spectacle out of me, they did perform a very different pat down of my body and I was forced to tell them why I was wearing silicone prostheses. It was hard to hold back the tears as I explained my plight. Realizing I was no threat to national security, they gave the green light that allowed me to pass through the gate and on toward my flight.

When I reached the next country, I expected security measures to be even more strict but was pleasantly surprised to find they were not. In fact, the security team in Paris was more kind and considerate than our American one. As I whispered in the ear of the woman at the security desk that I'd had both breasts removed and was wearing silicone prostheses, she took my arm and personally walked me through the scanners telling me not to worry the entire time. Her sensitivity made me feel more like a princess than an oddity.

On the last leg of my trip, while entering the security area of Israel, I expected to meet the most difficult security process by far but found, once again, a kindness and understanding of the employees that surpassed my expectations. Instead of meeting difficulty and being forced to reveal my breastlessness, I was ushered through the scans quickly and unobtrusively.

Instead of packing the silicone breasts in my checked baggage, I decided to wear them. Earlier, I'd contacted the manufacturer regarding care of prostheses during travel and had been told I might experience problems with high altitudes. Apparently, they said, prostheses might become tainted with black spots that would eventually disappear, but that never happened. I'd also been told the silicone might expand during flight and that in some rare cases, they could burst, but once again, that was a misnomer.

The entire trip was better than expected as I traveled with protheses. The care regimen was basically the same although I washed and dried the silicone breast forms a little more than usual since sightseeing on hot days produced more body sweat to accumulate on them.

All in all, the trip was uneventful once passing through the first gates of security in our country. It would have been nice to have been treated as kindly there as in the other countries. Perhaps, America will learn to lighten up a little with survivors. Sure, silicone breasts could be filled with explosives or other banned substances so airport security must scrutinize those of us who wear them but it would be nice if they'd try to be a little more sensitive and understanding.

On the next trip out of the country, I'll probably pack the prostheses instead of wearing them but then I'd probably have to explain my gender and that might take a little longer causing me to miss my flight.

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