Monday, October 15, 2012


I’ve been neglecting this blog and have been somewhat cloak and dagger about it.  I was in Washington DC last week and I will share that story tomorrow.  Today, it’s all about the airports.  All airports.  Even ones through which I’ve not traveled.

On Wednesday morning as I was on my way to the airport, I listened to a radio report of yet another TSA horror story.  Unlike a woman in Kansas who experienced the same exact thing I did in November, the story out of Seattle sounded pretty awful.   Kansas?  She expressed the same concerns I had in November.

Both here, and in a mildly toned down version in the MSKCC survivor newsletter (page 7), I too feel TSA needs some guidelines with regard to the way they “handle” the well over two MILLION women in this country alone who have had a breast cancer surgery.  The story out of Seattle was quite different.

It involved a patient who is dying.  She was taking a trip to Hawaii.  Her final vacation.  She was given months to live.  Her story is chronicled in the NY Daily News.  It’s reprinted in its entirety below this post.  Sometimes those links only work for a short time.

She’s 34 years old and will enter hospice on October 17. Michelle Dunaj said the trip to Hawaii was number one on her bucket list.  Prior to commencing travel, she contacted the airline.  Despite her advance plans, Miss Dunaj was the recipient of a full inspection in public view, which included lifting her blouse and peeling back tape so her feeding tubes could be fully examined by the agents. 

One hour after hearing the story on the radio, I was at the gate waiting for my delayed flight.  Thankfully, I had no episode on the security line.  My only issue was sitting at the gate for two hours.   A conversation was well within earshot of my seat and it was about this “disgusting episode in Seattle.”  I turned and glanced at the two men.  TSA agents.  One of them pointed in my direction and asked, “You heard about this, didn’t you?”  I simply nodded and he said to his fellow agent, “I told you, I’m not making this up.  There is no excuse for that kind of stuff.  NONE.”

Score one for the TSA personnel at LaGuardia.

On Friday afternoon, I was in Dulles Airport in the DC area.  The security line was long and frankly, it’s the worst part of traveling.  I generally do not check bags so security can be a pain in the ass.  Plastic bag with my travel size toiletries into a bin.  Cell phone, shoes, handbag into another bin.  Toss the license and boarding pass in there, too.  Bin number three, the iPad which must have its very own bin.  Oh jeez.  Remove the sweater and the scarf, too.  Hell.  Why not just strip down.

As I was watching the commotion at the body scanners, I grabbed my phone and sent a tweet speculating what would happen as I hit the scanner.  I was throwing down some Vegas odds.  Pat down or not?  I guessed yes.  I guessed wrong.  However, as I was asked about the contents of my pockets and whatever else is in THEIR script, I looked right into the eyes of the burly TSA guy and said, “Nothing in my pockets but I have cancer breasts.”  As the words were in the air, I remember thinking, “Did you really just say that???”

I’ve learned its just best to state my medical situation before entering the scanner.  I have pink fatigue and after three intense days in DC, I didn’t have the patience to say anything more civilized.  “I am a breast cancer patient and have permanent prostheses,” might have been a better idea but then, unless I actually say “implants” those guys wouldn’t understand.  To be perfectly honest, it bugs me to say that I have breast implants.  It has that Pamela Anderson ring to it.  As if I CHOSE.  I am on that “breast cancer is not a choice” campaign so I couldn’t summon the word “implants.”  “Cancer breasts” was quick, easy and accurate.  And ingenious.  AND, no pat down.  I lost the bet.  Happily.

I had a uneventful trip back to New York.  And then, I was thrown into pink hell.  I have no idea what the hell was going on at American Airlines in LaGuardia Airport but when I got into the terminal, this is what I saw.

Gate after gate, each one decorated more outrageously than the one before.  Finally, I arrived at the balloon arch and simply shook my head as I passed through the victory gate.

There was an American Airlines agent within an arms length of me and again, I don’t know what the hell possessed me to do this but I looked at the guy and said, “Note to American Airlines, breast cancer isn’t a pink party.”  There was a gentleman slightly behind him and I swear his facial expression, upon hearing my words, seemed to say, “She’s RIGHT, this isn’t a cause for a celebration.”

After snapping a couple of pictures, I exited the terminal and found my way home.  Of course, I wasn’t quite finished.  The pictures went on twitter and on Facebook.  My friend Sandy, one of the stage IV patients featured in the movie Pink Ribbons Inc made me laugh with a few of her comments.  We bantered back and forth.  However, on Saturday, Dr. Deanna Attai saw the tweet and asked if I would be blogging about this mess or contacting American Airlines.  Except, SHE was smart.  She included American Airlines in the tweet she sent to me.

And this is what happened.  In one quick set of tweets……  American Airlines responded to Deanna and to me.

They explained how they are proud to #flyforthecure and she suggested they tone it down.

I was blown away by their response.

And, I made sure to let them know....

AND, they even got a shout out from my very dear friend, Kwanele in South Africa for the way they handled this....

A few others were involved in the back and forth....... Me?  I am GRATIFIED that people are willing to at least LISTEN to the other side of the ribbon culture  .... AND, it's pretty hard to render me speechless but this most assuredly did just that.....

For me, this is the moral of the story.  One voice, with the help of a few friends, CAN make a difference.

Then, of course... there's this.

I'm pretty sure they now have a TSA Watch List of Breast Cancer Trouble Makers.

And I'm pretty sure I may be public enemy number one.  Right at the top of that list.....

TSA still has to answer for this.  I have someone opening up a dialogue with them.  She had a bad experience several months back and she now has a batphone directly to someone at the TSA.  They are willing to listen.  And I'm more than willing to talk.

The Daily News Story:

Michelle Dunaj says she received a full public pat-down in the TSA security line and had to lift her shirt and pull back bandages so agents could get a good look at tubes used for feeding and medicine.

SEATTLE — A Michigan woman dying of leukemia says she hopes her embarrassment during a Seattle airport security pat-down might change the way the Transportation Security Administration treats travelers with medical conditions.
A TSA spokeswoman said late Tuesday, however, that the agency had reviewed video from the security checkpoint where Michelle Dunaj was screened for weapons and determined that the agency’s procedures were followed.
Dunaj, 34, was making what she expects will be the last trip of her life on Oct. 2 as she traveled through Seattle en route to Hawaii.
The Roseville, Mich., woman thought she had prepared by calling the airline ahead of time, asking for a wheelchair, carrying documentation for her feeding tubes and making sure she had prescriptions for all her medications, including five bags of saline solution. But Dunaj said she received a full pat-down in the security line at Seattle-Tacoma Airport and had to lift her shirt and pull back bandages so agents could get a good look. She said everyone else in line got a look, too.
‘‘My issue is: It was in front of everyone, and everyone was looking at me like I was a criminal or like I was doing something wrong,’’ Dunaj told The Associated Press on Tuesday. ‘‘It shouldn’t have been in front of everyone.’’
Dunaj said a female agent performed the pat-down and asked her to lift up her shirt after feeling the tubes going into Dunaj’s chest and abdomen. Dunaj said her suggestion for a more private pat-down was dismissed.
‘‘I asked them if they thought that was an appropriate location, and they told me that everything was fine,’’ she said.
She said another agent punctured one of the saline bags she was carrying, ruining it.
‘‘I didn’t want to start getting upset and swearing and causing more of a scene or issue,’’ Dunaj said. ‘‘But it definitely wasn’t handled properly.’’
TSA said in a statement, ‘‘At no point did a TSA officer open the passenger’s medically necessary liquids and the passenger was never asked to remove or pull off any bandages.’’
The agency also said ‘‘at any point, any passenger can request private screening with a witness present.’’


Asked to comment on Dunaj’s statement that she had asked for a more private pat-down, TSA Northwest Region spokeswoman Lorie Dankers said, ‘‘I cannot address that’’ and added that the ‘‘statement stands on its own.’’
‘‘We have determined that our screening procedures were followed,’’ she said late Tuesday.
Dunaj said that after her pat-down, she was asked to move along, as if she were responsible for holding up the line.
‘‘I thought that was a little rude,’’ she said.
The TSA statement said ‘‘the passenger has not contacted TSA about her screening experience.’’
‘‘We work to make our screening procedures as minimally invasive as possible while providing the level of security that the American people want and deserve,’’ Dankers said in the statement.
Travelers with disabilities can call a TSA hotline with questions about screening procedures.
Dunaj did not immediately return a call Tuesday evening seeking comment on the TSA’s response.
She initially told her story on KOMO-TV.
She had no problems flying out of Detroit or returning to Seattle from Hawaii. She has been staying with a friend at suburban Bonney Lake in western Washington and planned to return to Michigan on Wednesday. She wasn’t looking forward to departing from Sea-Tac, although the TSA contacted her through KOMO and offered to have a manager help her through security.
Her friend Mary Rowe said Tuesday evening the experience has ‘‘been exhausting for her.’’
‘‘On the last trip of her life, she’s been totally bombarded with everything,’’ Rowe said.
Dunaj decided to make the trip after she was told she had three to four months to live. She doesn’t regret it, despite the hassles.
‘‘Hawaii was one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen,’’ she said. ‘‘Number One on my bucket list.’’
She'll enter hospice back home Oct. 17.

Read more:


  1. AnneMarie, you are totally my hero!

    The TSA thing isn't really a surprise, neither their actions or their response.

    1. I really do have someone in NY with an inside track to the TSA after a fairly horrible incident which she handled with such grace and such class and refused any and all interviews about the mess. TSA apologized. She took the high road and as a result, they will talk to her. American Airlines took the high road, too and I have to give them credit for their immediate response on twitter. I respect and appreciate that a major company whose business relies upon customer satisfaction is monitoring social media AND engaging when they see something.

      I asked if I could be put on a permanent first class upgrade list in response to their last tweet..... :)

      Love to you, Acacia....


  2. Before I flew to Paris in September I made certain I had all my ducks in a row. I had a letter from my Dr stating I had a port a Cath implanted on my upper right chest explaining it was used for Chemotherapy and if I need IV treatment. Etc. I was told I could either go through or request a private area for inspection I opted for the last. She was very good and most empathetic not once did i feel worried violated or touched unnecessarily. It was all under 2 minutes. I was further asked if I needed some help with my carry on, I received great service overall..
    France on the other leaving I had to go through the scan then it beeped so I was given a thorough frisk job, that was demeaning. I asked for some help with my carry on with Lymphodema my bag was heavy to carry. I was told I should have cleared with my agent in Canada. WOW!! I did complain The other day I received a letter of apology from Air Canada plus a voucher for $300.00 off my next ticket in Dec. There definitely needs to be better service in place for Cancer people and others who have to wear devices and carry meds.
    Love Alli XX

    1. Alli..
      THAT sucks. I get they are doing their jobs and that some airports are more "high risk" than others but there is no excuse for that attitude. I'm glad Air Canada stepped up and did something..... Make sure to have the agent put extensive notes in the reservation so you can get the help you need on both sides of the trip.

      And... CONGRATS, too..... that would be on the reason you were in Paris....


  3. AnneMarie:

    Wow, good for you! I'm so glad American Airlines was at least receptive to the constructive criticism. The decorations at the airport were a bit much. The story about the dying woman was heartbreaking. I haven't been frisked by the TSA, but I'm dreading the day. Oh, by the way, my new web site is

    1. Just changed the feed on the blogroll! I should have used the phone video to capture the full impact of what I walked through..... It felt like Mardi Gras ... just waiting for beads... oh, wait... that's BRA day....

      Congrats on the new site... and the book??? I saw Idelle's comment to you on another post......

      Hugs and love,

  4. Go get 'em AnneMarie! Wish I had known you'd be in DC. I would have loved to meet you face to face and give you a hug. You are terrific!!!

    1. Ahhhh.... Ellen... next time and there will be a next time for one reason or another... We will plan a meeting. I think you're pretty fantastic, too!


  5. WOW. WOW. And WOW. I'm completely floored every time I read your blog. In so many ways. For the advocacy stand you take. For the information I am getting that I NEED to know but would NEVER have known otherwise. THANKS!

    1. I LOVE that you are getting information from some of the things I share! Stick together..... And we will get things done....

  6. Hi AnneMarie,

    I was actually unhappy with the Tweet responses I read here from American Airlines and surprised that you were pleased with them. But now that I think of it, it is good that American Airlines respects your opinion and will forward it for consideration. You know, instead of the usual corporate responses: ignore or guilt trip you by suggesting you do not support breast cancer "awareness."

    A PR person, representing a firm that works on a major breast cancer pink campaign, responded to some of my anti pink culture Tweets a while back and actually asked me, I kid you not, if I didn't support breast cancer research. You know, because pink is the only way to get things done. And if I'm against pink, I must be against research. How ironic. Great PR, eh?: characterize me as someone against women with breast cancer, against research!

    Anyway, sorry. I got a bit off topic. It is interesting to compare how different companies respond to these sorts of things.

    Sorry you had to endure the pink party at the airport, among everything else. It must be so hard. I'm so glad you're so vocal! I know you through Pink Ribbon Blues and I've seen your comments on a number of anti-pink posts/sites. I love the web.


    1. Ashley...

      That's EXACTLY how I felt about American Airlines. I was impressed by the swift reply. Obviously, they are monitoring the social media feeds with care. For me, that definitely matters. The other thing that impressed me was their immediate willingness to listen to another side. Their first reply was how proud they are to #flyforthecure ... And when Deanna politely suggested a bit less spectacle, they didn't "dig their heels in" and insist they were doing great things. Sometimes, it's just about being heard, acknowledged and validated.

      I HATE that your tweets were responded to with such disrespect. We will never get anywhere if we can't get on the same page and be accepting of the fact that we are all different. The PR firm was WWWAAYYYYY out of line with you. That's just wrong. There's no right way to "do cancer" but we should all be free to speak our minds and to be mindful of others. I'll jump on that bandwagon with you if you decide you want to start in with them again. I'm always up for a good "discussion!"

      The airport party just had me shaking my head and almost laughing at the stupidity of it. Had I gotten there a bit earlier, I would have really walked into a party with cupcakes and all sorts of stuff.

      I believe things can change and that they will change. It's going to be slow and the only way it's going to happen is if we are all willing to embrace the little victories and build on those. If I walk into LaGuardia next year and see the same thing, I'll have plenty to say about that "NY crew" .... (somehow this looked like a "pick a day in October to celebrate" and I happened to be there at that moment) .... I'll be in the airport next week again... This time JFK... also American... We shall see....

      Hugs to you...


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