Humiliating airport pat-down for breast cancer survivor: an update on Lori Dorn's JFK incident

The health blog "Well" at the New York Times covers the case of Lori Dorn, a 44-year-old New York woman and friend of Boing Boing who learned in March that she had breast cancer. Over the weekend, I blogged here at Boing Boing about a horrible experience she had going through the TSA screening at JFK airport.

After tests revealed a high genetic risk for cancer, Ms. Dorn underwent a bilateral mastectomy in April as well as a grueling chemotherapy treatment that just ended in September. As part of her breast reconstruction, tissue expanders were implanted to stretch her skin before placement of a permanent breast implant.

But Ms. Dorn says that last week, on her way to San Francisco to visit friends, she was treated with hostility and humiliated after the tissue expanders were detected by a body scanning machine at Kennedy Airport in New York. She said the workers from the Transportation Security Administration would not let her retrieve a medical card explaining the implants, a situation she wrote about on her blog.

You can read Lori's first person account here, and my previous blog post is here. As Lori explains there and to the New York Times reporter, she went through a scan at the screening point, and wasn't even opposed to being patted down—she just wanted a chance to explain her medical situation and be taken to a private area for the physical pat-down. She said that was never offered. The TSA has since issued a statement.


  1. Is it common to prescribe chemotherapy for someone who’s at high risk, even before detecting a tumor?  I know that tumors start out microscopic so I guess it’s possible.

    1. also curious about that. prophylactic surgery is one thing, but I hadn’t heard of prophylactic chemo. 

      60% chance of cancer versus 100% chance of chemo…………I hope I don’t have to make that decision.

      1. 60% chance of cancer versus 100% chance of chemo…………I hope I don’t have to make that decision.

        I have a vague idea that in these cases you can get a low dose of chemo which won’t actually take you to the brink of death.

    2. The previous line to the quote states that she was diagnosed with cancer, so the quote is therefore quite confusing. The double mastectomy was a preventative measure for any future cancers, due to the genetic risk factor. The chemo therapy was for the cancer.

      I actually think it might be a good idea to have things like this added to the passport. Something that automatically flags any findings like this as “yes, it’s supposed to show up”. Otherwise I think scenarios like this are going to continue to happen. If I was in charge of security I would not put too much trust in a doctor’s note as they can be forged, but instead put in some official way how any prostethics, medical devices, medicines that needs to be taken on board, etc etc could be officially added to the passport or some other travel document.

  2. Do people that work airport security really hate their jobs so much that they never let people get a word in to explain things?  I know this is not reflective of ALL TSA workers (after all, we only hear about the outrageous ones.)  But seriously, not letting people have the chance to explain things is just ridiculous.

    1. They’re ALL outrageous ones, because all of them are doing something unnecessary and potentially dangerous for the sake of theater. Giving up dignities and rights for safety and security is bad enough, but doing it for theater? 

  3. The War on American citizens continues.  Call it a war on drugs, call it a war on terror, but it is the common folks of this great nation that bear the majority of the burden these wars impose on our day to day lives.   All for the claimed safety of the nation, all for the actual pocketbooks of multinational corporations, all at the expense of the people.

  4. Do people that work airport security really hate their jobs so much that they never let people get a word in to explain things?

    I don’t necessarily chalk it up to “hat[ing] their jobs.” 

    I don’t think I’ve ever read any investigation into the training for TSA workers, and what attitude they are trained to foster, and how they are taught to view travelers. When everyday (US) policepeople are routinely taught in academy to think of themselves as “warriors,” I wouldn’t doubt that there is some “save the world” rhetoric being used in TSA training. 

    Whatever training they receive is causing these things to happen, and it’s directly related to their authoritarian attitudes.

    1. When everyday (US) policepeople are routinely taught in academy to think of themselves as “warriors,” I wouldn’t doubt that there is some “save the world” rhetoric being used in TSA training.

      That sound I hear is the sound of the hammer hitting the nail on the head.

      These folks are immersed in the theatre so deeply they don’t realize it.  About 90 days ago, I retired from a federal position where I went through the metal detectors and was subject to search and patdown 30 times a day, anytime I entered the federal office building where I worked.  Eventually, the guards knew me and I got only cursory checks unless someone from higher-up was observing.  During slack times, we might even chat.  They (and this is what’s important) eventually stopped censoring their between-the-guys banter while I was in earshot.

      You would not believe the number of times I overheard these rent-a-cops talking about how they were on the front lines of the fight against terrorism, how they might be called upon to take or dispense a bullet to defeat a terrorist.  They were one step up from the security guards at the mall, fer chrissakes, and they really did think of themselves as heroes for looking in peoples handbags and making them take their pocketknives back to their cars.

      I made a joke about it once.  I told one of them “Y’know, all these metal detectors went into all federal buildings after the OKC bombing.  How many people have been caught since then with 5000 pounds of fuel oil and fertilizer in their briefcase as they pass through the checkpoint?”

      He just stared at me.  The “Whoosh” as the joke flew over his head was very nearly audible.

      These people are able to do their jobs because, I am convinced, self-deception is the most powerful force in the universe.

  5. I have really put off traveling back to the US for several years so far.  I have the feeling that I may never go back at this rate.  Europe — minus the UK — looks so much better.

  6. “The T.S.A. e-mailed a statement about the incident, saying that proper screening procedures were followed”

    Give me a break. They’ll cut off your head, looking for throat explosives and call it “proper procedure”…

  7. Allowing the passenger to display her medical card should have triggered a more compassionate response from the transportation security officer

    A somewhat disingenuous thing to say when it is clear she was not allowed to display her card.
    In a sane world they would have issued an apology, not a statement.

  8. As previously noted here, the first line in the TSA’s statement was “We strive to treat every passenger with dignity and respect.”

    This statement epitomises the problem.  These are not things that should need to be strived for.  They are common courtesy and something that any person in such a role should maintain flawlessly at all times.

    This would be equivalent to a restaurant owner saying that they strive to serve food that is not laden with cat faeces.

    1. I don’t think you can use the words ‘person’ and ‘flawlessly’ in the same sentence and be taken seriously.  People are flawed.  The employees of the TSA are people too.

  9. I’m so grateful whenever you post items on the TSA. I haven’t been back to the States for several years but I hear awful things, all the time. For about 15 yrs I traveled from London to Seattle and could really feel the change, grateful I just take trains now in Europe. 
    From what I understand the TSA is going into sporting events as well as other public venues. Our 1st, 4th, now perhaps our 2nd….the amendments slowly, so gradually just fade away…

    Again, thanks for sharing this women’s plight. What can one say; philistines…

  10. Shorter TSA statement: “We did everything right, like we do every time. We called the whiner to explain how awesome we are. Next time, we’ll be even more awesome. Thank you for your cooperation, as if you had a choice.”

  11. As a cancer survivor, this breaks my heart.  But, until there is a major civil lawsuit brought against the TSA, these sort things will continue to happen.

  12. Even if it costs more, even if it takes more time, if you can get where you’re going without flying do it. Hurt the airlines’ bottom line and the TSA becomes their problem and, since it’s how the American government now works, the airlines will pay the government to fix it. 

    1. “Just don’t fly!” really isn’t a viable option for a lot of people.  Not everyone has the funds or time to drive or take the train or the bus (and the train or bus isn’t always an option everywhere), especially if it’s business-related or a funeral, and if it’s a vacation, most employers don’t offer enough vacation time to supplement longer travel times.

      Additionally, I’m tired of this, “Just don’t fly!” bullshit for other reasons: Not flying can actually hinder one’s ability to get ahead in the world.  It can affect one’s ability to see the world, which can be a valuable education in and of itself.  It can affect one’s ability to accept certain jobs.  Or move to certain locations where there may be more opportunities, but they may be far from their family — and especially if it’s in another country, they really would have to fly, as “just take a boat” is not a valid option for most international travel.

      Not to mention the fact that many employers require their employees to fly for business — and if they don’t, they either don’t advance in their careers, or they could potentially get fired.

      Also, many of our advances as a society came about because of our ability to travel farther and farther away from home!  Convenient travel greatly improved our lives, and afforded us the ability to make many discoveries, among other things.

      Our society very much relies on our ability to travel to other locations, quickly and conveniently.  Giving that up is not, in my opinion, an acceptable or realistic option.  Why should we go backwards?

      “Just don’t fly!” is just yet another way to bring the middle and lower classes down, really.

      1. I get that you want to rant. It’s fun. But, my post clearly said *if* you can avoid flying then don’t fly. I suggest making a copy of your reply, save it and post it as a response to someone actually saying something idiotic along the lines of “If you don’t like it don’t fly.” I’m sure there are post like that out there. 

        1. Oh, I wasn’t replying to you, exactly, just the sentiment.  I should have made that more clear and probably not have replied to you directly in the first place.  Sorry about that. :)

          “If you don’t like it don’t fly.” I’m sure there are post like that out there.

          There always is someone trying to argue that whenever a post about the TSA comes up.  If you read through the comments in the original post about this, you’ll see at least two people attempting to argue that.  I was just trying to get ahead of the game, as I expect they’ll pop in any moment now and exclaim, “Just don’t fly, you sheeple!  It’s just that easy!”  They are very predictable!

  13. Good thing our congressmen are working on reigning in the TSA to protect the dignity of the people who they are sworn to represent.  Oh wait, they aren’t doing anything.

    1. Reminds me of cheesy book title I saw when I was a kid and the Soviet Union was still around.  It was called “U.S.S.A.”, standing for “United Secure States of America”.  Seems quite fitting now.

  14. I realize the issue complained about is the pat down, but I don’t think she should’ve initially gone through the scanner. Everyone should opt out of participation in the porno scanners on principle, however, someone with a high risk for cancer must—for the sake of their health—flatly refuse to submit to those scans due to cumulative radiation exposure.

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