Traveling with Prosthesis

Traveling with Prosthesis

Traveling with prosthesis of any kind through TSA offers preparation and concerns. I promised a follow-up blog after my post entitled, My Boobs in a Box. There is both a light-hearted side to this story and one that still raises the hairs on my neck when I recall the details of a particular day at the airport. Let’s start with the funny stuff.

Altitude and Silicone Inserts for Breast Prosthesis

FullSizeRender(18)I was told when I picked up my breast prosthesis that the silicone implants I chose could potentially exhibit some odd behaviors when I was at altitude on a flight. I experienced those odd altitude behaviors in my prosthesis twice; once on a flight and the other time when I was visiting the Grand Canyon over an extended weekend. The first time I flew with my prosthetic bra I felt the effects of the altitude after we began climbing. I could feel them expanding, an odd feeling indeed when they are against your chest wall. If you really want to get into the science of lower pressure environment equals volume expansion check out this website. But, suffice to say, it happened to me and was quite a peculiar feeling.

The second such experience was on an extended weekend trip to visit the Grand Canyon. I was also told at the prosthesis office that my silicone inserts may develop black speckles at altitude. We were in Flagstaff for the weekend and the altitude there is near 7,000 ft. Again, I felt the expansion the higher we climbed in altitude on our drive to Flagstaff that weekend. But, the big reveal was when I took my prosthetic bra off at night and carefully stored them in the familiar “boob box” and noticed that sure enough, there were several black speckles scattered throughout the silicone enclosed in the insert. Very strange and funny looking! Those speckles dissipated and disappeared after I returned to a lower altitude. There you are: your daily fun facts about prosthetic inserts for a bra.

Trepidation, Travel and TSA

I worried unnecessarily about flying with that liquid silicone in my bra but I wanted to be prepared. There had been a couple of stories floating around the internet, about women being patted down and uncomfortably so, while flying with prosthesis. My mantra, be prepared and be vigilant. I researched this and found that TSA does provide a card that can be printed from their website and carried with you on your flight. I not only downloaded it I had it laminated. I think that was my way of making it look even more official and also not wanting to lose it or reprint it for future flights. I carried it in my hand with my ID as I approached the scanning area. I showed the agent to let them know before any issues might arise. It worked because I didn’t have any issues with any of my flights in the seven months I wore the prosthetic bra.

An Emotional Visit that Ended Poorly with the Airport Authorities

That being said, I sadly have to reveal another not so pleasant incident when I used that card. I was flying home from seeing family. That had been an emotional trip for me to begin with because it was the first time I had seen my parents and other close relatives since my mastectomy. I admittedly felt awkward the first few moments greeting everyone knowing that they knew I had been through having my breasts removed just three short months prior to that visit. I wore my prosthesis every day I was there but always and uncomfortably felt like the first glance from family and friends was a quick and subtle scan of my breasts area. Normal human curiosity would take a quick glance at a loved one, a family member who had recently been through a mastectomy. That was the lack of confidence, the uncomfortable new me dealing with the loss of my breasts. The first question was always, “How are you doing?” I’d smile to let them know I was well and so happy to see them, even though I was self-conscious about what they might be thinking. So yes, it was an emotional visit.

My flight home after the week of seeing my relatives was a late flight and delayed due to weather related issues. The connecting airport I flew into was jam packed with passengers trying to get on the next quickest flight home, present company included. But, as many times happens, even though I was able to catch an earlier flight with the delay mix-up, I went before my luggage. I was told it would be waiting for me at the airport to pick up when it arrived on the next flight. I was exhausted because my flight was so late. The baggage pickup area for lost and delayed luggage was already closed for the evening. My husband was concerned about me driving out to the airport and lifting the luggage into the car by myself. He offered to take the morning off to go get it at the airport. I told him he didn’t need to take precious time off for that reason because I would just call the airport to have them deliver it the next day.

Downhill from there…

It went downhill from there. I called the airlines the next morning to request that my luggage be delivered to my home. I have had this service provided more than once from delayed flights. This time no such service was going to be provided. I was dismayed and quite frankly angry at this point. They explained to me that if it was weather related it was out of the airlines control and the service wasn’t provided as a courtesy to passengers. For the first time I pulled the “cancer card”. I told them I was still recovering from a recent mastectomy and I had assured my husband that he didn’t need to take time off to get the luggage. I was sure the airlines would accommodate. They wouldn’t budge. I told them that lifting the heavy luggage was not in my best interest. My words fell on deaf ears. I got in the car and drove to the airport.

When I got to the office that had my luggage I knew that the staff that manned the office really didn’t have the authority to make the decision to deliver my luggage. So rather than start a rant at someone who had no control over the situation, I very politely asked to speak to the airport authority that was the head of that particular airlines baggage claim department. He had to be paged so I waited and I stood outside the office where my luggage waited for me. I had my TSA mastectomy card in my hand.   A gentleman was approaching the office at a rather hurried clip and I sensed he knew I was the person who had requested his presence.

I introduced myself to him and this was the conversation I had with him.

“If you saw a person who was wearing a visible prosthesis for an arm, a leg or another body part and they were struggling with their luggage, would you offer to help them?”

“Of course I would”, he stated with an honest and compassionate reply.

TSA prothesis

I looked at him, and holding at his eye level my TSA card with indication of my mastectomy and said, “I’m wearing prosthesis but you can’t see it. I’m concerned about getting my luggage out to my car and lifting it into the back to take home. Are you willing to help me with that?”

Did I set him up? Probably. But I felt strongly that the correct person in their organization needed to be aware of what had happened. I told him the airlines should have taken responsibility under the circumstances and assisted me by delivering my luggage. But I also told him I appreciated his help and acknowledged his compassion as an individual. I told him he may have made a different decision about delivering my luggage and I understood that the office staff I spoke to didn’t have that authority. I shook his hand, thanked him for his help and he apologized for the incident. I looked at him with affirmation and requested that he pass this along to his superintendent so that they might review their practices for future passengers. I told him that was my purpose in requesting to see him in the first place. He helped me that day but I wanted him to commit to reporting this so others could be helped as well.

I have now taped that TSA card to the top of my “Boobs in a Box” so that whoever I donate them to can also use the card.

I know challenges exist in life under many circumstances. Try to handle them with as much information and consideration as the situation allows. Have you had issues flying with prosthesis after a mastectomy? I hope not but would be interested in your story, too.

 

 

Disclaimer

References made to my surgical group, surgeon and healthcare team are made because they are aligned with my values and met my criterion after I did research of their practices and success rates. Any other healthcare provider that displays the same skill, compassion education and outreach to patients will be given consideration and recognition on this website.  The information contained on this website is not a substitute for or should be construed as medical advice. Please consult a licensed physician for medical advice.

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About Terri

I am a patient educator and advocate for choices in breast reconstruction after a mastectomy. Statistically, many women are not being informed of their choices due to many factors. Breast reconstruction is a personal choice. Providing information and education about those choices is a patient rite. It is the mission and focus of my work to provide that education and information.