Denise Albert was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015.
That was three years after being separated from her husband, from whom she is now divorced. It was 11 years after the birth of Jaron, her first son, and seven years after the birth of Jaylan, her second.
While things were difficult, Albert wasn’t one to be overwhelmed.
As she told People that year, “This is the downside of divorce. This is the first time I actually think of myself as a single mom. I’ve always said my boys have a dad; we just don’t live together. But now, when I’m sick, how will I do it? I know the answer. But it’s scary, regardless. I’ll just do it. That’s who I am. I’m strong. I’m tough.”
She took to blogging about her divorce and her cancer on her website The Moms, along with discussing these topics on her Sirius XM show.
But Sunday’s events clearly shook her — as she explained in the video she posted to her Facebook page and later to YouTube and the entry she wrote on her blog.
“I was in such shock last night that I didn’t include all of the details,” she wrote Monday, referring to a “humiliating” experience with the TSA.
Albert began chemotherapy in February, and opted for a medical port, which UW Medicine (published by the University of Washington) described as a catheter or a “long, hollow plastic tube” that is “connected to a plastic and metal reservoir.” It’s used to inject medicine directly into a vein.
Albert’s port, made of metal embedded in her chest, is used for chemotherapy, which hasn’t been easy on the 42-year-old. She now wears a wig due to hair loss, and the treatment has caused an infection across her body, “including on my feet,” she wrote.
To battle this infection, she carries a large container of medical cream — larger than three ounces.
Naturally, this makes flying somewhat difficult. She has to warn Transportation Security Administration agents of the oversize cream, that she won’t take off her shoes due to the infection, and that she has a metal port in her chest, which can show up when going through the body scanner.
According to Albert, she did all this Sunday while passing through security at Los Angeles International Airport — but the TSA agents working the security line didn’t seem to care.
“I went through the scanning machine at the airport without incident,” she wrote. “I had already told them about my metal port and my medical cream which I removed from my bag for them to see and test as I have done on prior flights.”
But then, her experience took a turn. Once she walked through the scanner, TSA agents asked her to remove her shoes.
“I explained I didn’t have socks on and that my cream is for an infection from my current treatment, including on my feet,” she wrote. “So if they wanted to put my shoes through x-ray, I would have to sit down because I would not put my bare feet on the floor. They allowed that.”
But then they told her they were going to search her.
“I don’t know what was different this time but TSA agents aggressively attempted to do a body cavity search in public,” she wrote, offering the following video as evidence.
In the video, a visibly upset Albert sat on a metal bench with her to what appeared to be a long security line.
She had her legs, clad in ripped black jeans, crossed at the ankle — until a female TSA agent wearing blue latex gloves grabbed her left thigh and ran her hands up to Albert’s crotch.
At that point, Albert appeared to be crying, as she looked away.
After the agent finished with the other leg, she reached toward Albert’s chest. Albert immediately reacted, pulling away from the agent and stating, “You can’t touch me there.”
Then, she held her hands protectively over her chest and repeated herself, more forcefully.
“You cannot touch me there.”
She repeated herself several times until a male agent walked over and asked what was the problem.
She explained that she has breast cancer and has a chest port and that she cannot be touched on her chest.
“So, that is part of the procedure,” the male agent said. “We have to clear everything. So like she was explaining, she’s gonna use the back of her hands. She’s gonna use as much pressure as she needs to clear the area. That’s part of it.”
Then he repeated, “clear the area” several more times.
“Finally, a supervisor arrived,” Albert wrote. “The only way I was allowed to proceed was when the supervisor was kind enough to have more compassion and possibly think the 2 agents went too far and took me into a private room for a regular soft pat down.”
Added Albert, “I have never been so humiliated or felt more violated in my life.”
“When I asked them why they were doing all of this, they kept repeating because I have the cream. That makes no sense. They didn’t say it was something with my scan,” Albert told Us magazine. “They were out of line. They were laughing. They had smirks on their faces.”
On Tuesday, Albert posted on Facebook that the TSA had called her and “apologized for my experience.”
TSA released a statement, obtained by KABC, saying it planned to investigate the situation and work with Albert “to address her concerns.”
It read, in full:
The Transportation Security Administration takes reports of alleged impropriety very seriously. TSA is currently looking into the specific details as to what occurred during the screening process to ensure our security protocols were followed. We regret any discomfort the security screening process may have caused the passenger. We will work with the passenger directly to address her concerns.
Screening is a tough job, as it inherently involves invasions of privacy. And TSA has grown quite accustomed to apologizing, as any Google search of the phrase “TSA apologizes” demonstrates.
In September, the agency apologized after a transgender woman complained bitterly and publicly when a male was assigned to pat her down and agents referred to her as a him.
In May, an Olympic gold medal swimmer — paralyzed from the waist down and in a wheelchair after an ATV crash— received an apology after she complained of being groped and “humiliated” during a full-body search at Denver’s airport.
TSA apologized and changed its policy about searching the hair of African American women after a complaint from the ACLU that they were being targeted because of their hairstyles, Essence reported, “such as Afros, locs and twist-outs.”
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