Denise Albert opened up to Us Weekly about an unsettling experience with the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) at Los Angeles International Airport on Sunday, December 4 — which resulted from bringing her breast cancer medication in her carry-on bag.
Albert, cofounder of The MOMS lifestyle and media company, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2015, was traveling back to her native NYC after hosting a Mamarazzi event with her business partner Melissa Gerstein for the film Sing. While going through airport security, the 42-year-old mom of two (sons Jaron, 11, and Jaylan, 8) was pulled aside for a pat-down.
Albert had passed through the body scanner without incident, properly informed TSA agents about her metal port, which is used for immunotherapy infusions, and alerted them about her medical cream. Although the prescription cream was larger than 3 oz., TSA guidelines state that exceptions are permitted for medical reasons.
Because of the oversized medication, TSA agents aggressively searched her in public. She ended up removing her wig because she was nervous about the security officers touching it. She tells Us that she felt “anxious, humiliated, upset” taking it off in public, because she rarely removes her hairpieces, which can cost upward of $3,000 each. "I feel very comfortable with my wigs. I have never felt OK without them. I feel sick,” she told Us. "It wasn't until recently that I removed my wig in my home even."
In a video of the incident, a security officer is also seen touching her crotch and attempting to touch her chest — close to her port — which Albert objected to. "It's sensitive, it sometimes hurts,” she explained to Us about why she can’t have someone touch the port. "I'm prone to infections, and my immune system is compromised from my treatment. I also have a rash and infections on my skin from some of my recent treatment, which is why I have the medical cream I was traveling with."
After repeatedly informing the TSA agents that she was a breast cancer patient and couldn’t be touched in certain areas, they finally allowed her a private room for a screening. However, they wouldn’t return her shoes — which she needed to cover open sores on her feet — while she walked there. According to the TSA website, she should not have had to remove her shoes at all because she had TSA Precheck designated on her boarding pass.
"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 tells Us. "They were out of line. They were laughing. They had smirks on their faces."
Once the pat-down was finished, the humiliation continued for Albert. "After I was cleared by the supervisor, they said they had to go through my bags, even after they all went through X-ray without incident and without being pulled off for further checking,” she recalls. “[A female TSA agent] took everything out and found two sets of eyelashes and said, ‘Wow, you have a lot of fake eyelashes. I told her it's because I don't have real ones. I think she thought she was being funny, but at this point, there was nothing funny about this situation.”
Although Albert didn’t receive an apology on-site, Kimberly Walton, assistant administrator for civil rights and liberty, ombudsman and traveler engagement, later called her to apologize for the experience. She promised that all 3,000 TSA employees at LAX would get a refresher course on how to screen people with medical conditions and disabilities, and that the airport is now conducting an investigation.
While Albert understands the importance of security, she also hopes that her story will help others who travel with necessary medications and medical conditions. "It's important for people with medical conditions to know their rights when traveling and what protocol is. I followed all of them. I told them I have a port. I told them I was wearing a wig. I took the cream out of the bag — it was in a ziplock but is larger than 3 oz.,” she tells Us. "I think people should be aware of what they need to do, but more importantly, I think TSA agents should use this for training purposes so that they know their guidelines and that this will not happen to anyone else."
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