It’s for work and so I am at the airport more often than not coming and going.
There is a lot of rushing to then sit quietly for hours.
I don’t love it but at this point in my career, it comes with the territory.
I wanted to write this for my fellow ladies with expanders and implants. The ones who are facing security lines for the first time and are fearful. Before I took my first trip after my surgery, I looked on the Internet for advice and what I found made me want to cry. I actually did by the time I made it to the airport. I worked myself into a frightened frenzy. It turns out the Internet has a lot of good advice and negative. During the time of my surgery and the months after, I seemed to only find the negative. There was talk of strip searches and embarrassment. I know this has happened to a few but it doesn’t happen that often and certainly not to everyone. Instead of strip searches, two TSA workers at LaGuardia Airport hugged me. I don’t think that’s protocol behavior but I needed hugs and they were handing them out that day along with kindness.
I’ll start from the beginning.
It was October and my first business trip after my mother’s death and the expander was in place for a solid 3 months. At the time, security just had the gates that would ring out if you had metal on. The x-ray machines where you have to have your hands in the air hadn’t been installed yet at LaGuardia Airport. Expanders sometimes trip up some of the gates and set off the alarm. Now I’m not usually a weepy woman. In fact, I’m quite solid. The past 5 months though had turned me into a shell of what I had once been. A mere shadow of what I would become.
I arrived two hours early nervous and wanting my old life back. The life that found travel a hassle and didn’t think much beyond that. I wanted my old life that didn’t include cancer where I could call my mother at the end of the day. I wanted the impossible. I had checked my bag and was headed for the security line when a small woman in uniform asked to see my ticket. It’s normal procedure to clarify if I was First Class or not. I showed her the ticket and then burst into tears.
“This is my first trip after my mastectomy,” I whispered. “I’m so afraid I’m going to set the machine off. I don’t know what to do.” My vulnerability was obvious.
She put her arms around me and said, “Don’t worry and come with me.” That was my first hug of the day. My ID was checked and then we then put what needed to go through the x-ray machine on the belt. She asked another woman to give me a hand check and then whispered in her ear. That woman checked me by hand as I cried through that too. Once she was done, we hugged.
Now I can’t promise your next trip to the local airport will be the love fest I had my first time back. I’ve since had some gruff TSA workers, chatty and sweet ones. There was one who lingered longer in places than she should have. I felt like a cheap date that time. None of them have ever been as gentle as the two who took care of me that first time. Of course, I haven’t cried like that since.
If you are going through security for the first time, be there at least 2 hours ahead of time so you won’t be rushed or panicked. Wear pants and a t-shirt. Something simple so they can pat you down quickly between your legs. The TSA worker will have to run her fingers inside you pants waist too. In Austin, she’ll check between your toes. Tell the woman that you’ve had a mastectomy or whatever is your ailment. Don’t be embarrassed and don’t try to hide anything. I tell you this as it has worked for me.
I remember traveling with my mother to Disneyland. She had an ostomy and we were carrying her supplies. She hated the fact she had one and tried to hide the little black bag that held her supplies. The security guard picked up on her fear and searched harder through her bag. I know if she had dropped the bag in front of him and said, “These are my ostomy supplies,” he wouldn’t have rifled through her things like that. She was so embarrassed and she shouldn’t have been.
I’m hoping this helps someone out there. If not, the next time you see a woman in black pants, black camisole who seems to be chatting away during her hand check it’s probably me. Yes, I know about the Pre check but I don’t qualify yet. Until then, just smile and wave.