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 with breast prostheses presents its own set of challenges; some real and some imagined.
This year marks my fourth cancerversary, and in celebration of that milestone, I've decided to take a trip overseas. The destination is one that's been on my bucket list for a very long time. I'm excited to finally have a chance to cross off that item and add it to the list of completed adventures. Although my trip won't be until the latter part of October, I'm planning ahead. But there's a problem. This trip requires flying for about 18 hours and will take me into a country with very tight security restrictions. I've never flown with my silicone girls before, and quite frankly, I'm nervous.
With recent bombings, shootings and other incidents in our world today, airports have taken it upon themselves to beef up security procedures in order to keep travelers safe. The guidelines are provided by the Department of Homeland Security's Transportation Security Administration.
To say I have concerns about going through airport security is an understatement.
I've already played out several scenarios in my mind. In one scenario, I see myself walking casually through the airport, wading through a sea of people as I near the first security checkpoint. I look like every other woman there. No one would be able to tell my breasts aren't real. I could try to pass through the scanner without saying a word, but I'm sure my prostheses would cause alarm as two dark, black blobs appeared on the screen. The security guard would probably go on high alert, pull me aside, frisk me and demand I remove the hidden drugs from my chest. I would die of embarrassment at being singled out and treated like a common criminal. Another scenario I've imagined, is walking up to the security check in, slipping off my shoes, and then brazenly whipping off my bra, sliding out my girls (aptly named Thelma and Louise) dropping them gently into the plastic bin and watching them move under the scanner while a shocked attendant turns beet red. That's my favorite scenario, but there's yet another. More than likely, this scenario will be the one to play out. I'll approach the security checkpoint, be scanned and pulled aside.
Then I'll be taken by an attendant into a private screening area where I'll subsequently be patted down and required to remove my bra and prostheses for inspection. Not only will I be humiliated, I'll be the one turning beet red and then, I'll probably be livid at the invasion of my privacy. I shudder to think this may actually happen and while I hope it doesn't, I do understand security is just doing their job and trying to make sure we're all safe.
Another concern I have about flying with my prostheses is wondering how they'll react to the increase in air pressure. I've read stories that would blow your mind and I even watched a video clip depicting a scene where a young woman with silicone breast implants dies when her implants expand so much they explode from her chest. That was a horrific and very sensationalistic presentation, but it impacted me nonetheless.
Wanting to find out the most information possible, I turned to the internet and began searching. Of course, we all know there's a plethora of good and bad information on the internet, but I hoped to find some true-life stories that would prove helpful. According to some women who've traveled on long flights, breast prostheses can expand in different altitudes. These women said they were able to feel the expansion and were surprised by the feeling. Another bit of information stated silicone prostheses can develop tiny black speckles that dissipate after altitude changes to a lower level.
Now I was even more concerned. Not only did I have to worry about being embarrassed at the security checkpoint, I also had to worry about explosion, expansion or speckles.
While searching for information on the TSA's website, I did find information that was helpful. I could print out a TSA notification card that would alert the screener to my medical condition. Upon arrival at the security checkpoint, I would need to present the card and wait for further instruction. This information gave me a little more peace of mind, but I wondered if the card would work in my country of destination. Their security might be even stricter.
In order to avoid potential problems, I decided to pack my prostheses in my checked luggage. This meant I'd be flying without the girls on my chest and I'd need to plan a clothing camouflage strategy to hide my breastlessness.
I sure hope my checked luggage arrives at the same time I do and doesn't get lost. I'd hate to think of my silicone breasts disappearing somewhere in the Middle East and becoming a risk to national security. It would be devastating to find my expensive, lifelike breast forms had been blown to smithereens in an attempt to detonate them before they caused an incident.
Hopefully, you'll understand this is a light-hearted look at the problem of international travel, but the reality is, this is a serious concern for those of us who have lost our breasts to cancer. Those forced to wear a prosthetic can understand the daily challenges faced. One of the best ways to conquer unpleasant situations is to find a little humor and hopefully, I've been able to do that in this post. By the way, I'll have to give you an update on how things went when I return, but you'll have to wait until November for that post.