Today marked three months since my completion of salvage radiation. “Has it been three months already?” they asked me at the check-in desk in Radiation Oncology at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. I was reporting for a routine, follow-up visit with my radiation oncologist to attend to any lingering side effects since radiation’s end (none to report, knock on wood). It was brief, friendly and, in retrospect, almost remarkable for its lack of any mention of cancer. In short order, I was on my way.
It wasn’t until later, at Sea-Tac International Airport, that cancer raised its head.
I’m on my way back to Cuba, and I had given this absolutely no thought until, there I was, at the tail of the security line, gazing into a queue of passengers being herded to the whole-body security scanners.
I’ve tried to follow both the science and the scandal surrounding these devices, and while, at the bottom line of the science, there may be inconclusiveness about their safety, I reacted very simply: more radiation. And I’ve now had a lifetime’s worth. An X-ray for medical purposes, I understand and accept, and even for a dental exam, I’m fine – but for this? The two words reverberated: more radiation.
A touch of urgency set in. My failure to think this through beforehand was now forcing an impulsive decision: Can I refuse? How? And what’s my alternative? What exactly had I read in the news? And on the blogs — what had my fellow cancerians warned about these scanners? Why were they banned in Europe? Why hadn’t I thought of this?
Time was up. Time to declare my intentions or proceed to more radiation. No! I told myself, and then, with conviction to the TSA officer: “I need a non-radiation alternative.” I was cautioned about the sole alternative, a physical pat down. “Fine.”
“Step over there.” And over there, starting at my collar, blue latex hands began their inquisitive journey, down my torso, front and back, around and inside my waistband, and finally down my thighs, knees, calves, shins, to my very socks, the blue hands hijacking my every sense: I remember seeing and hearing nothing of the airport around me. The TSA officer was polite, official, thorough. And I was done.
Not yet. The officer’s blue latex gloves now needed to be checked for any explosive residue gleaned from my clothing. I stood alone, my shoeless feet aligned on a yellow +. Curious travelers passed, their eyes aiming unspoken questions at me. They hurried on.
And this, I thought, is my new normal.