Hands in the Air if You’ve Had Radiation

The last week of September I took advantage of a cheap flight and travelled to my home state of Michigan for a week of visiting with family, friends, my beloved home yoga studio, all the yummy food I miss and cooler fall weather.

I also decided to take this opportunity of proximity to drive to Toronto and visit my dear friend, Kevin. Those of you who read my blog regularly might recognize him as the main character from my days on the El Camino de Santiago. (Catch-up on those here)

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Kevin in his natural habitat

Toronto is only a few hours drive from Detroit. As I crossed over the border, I texted Kevin giving him my ETA and joking that I had successfully duped border agents because I won’t be coming back to the United States. I mean, how could I resist affordable healthcare, sane leadership and Tim Hortons? I’ll tell you how – snow and cold weather. Politics, healthcare, coffee and hypothermia aside, Kevin, I and his partner had a lovely evening catching up, followed by Kevin and I spending the next day eating and walking around his Toronto neighborhood (a la Camino style).

On the way home, I enjoyed the drive and opportunity to catch up on my podcasts. Thankful for only one car ahead of me in the US Customs line, I pulled up to the Border Agent window and handed him my passport, ignorantly thinking I’d be home soon for a nap before evening yoga.

“Ma’am, have you had any recent medical procedures?” How much time do you have? Was my first thought. Then I looked in my rearview mirror to see six Border Agents and two German Shepherds.

I explained that I had a radiation procedure three weeks ago and the group of agents asked me to pull over to Secondary Inspection. It was a little surprising to find I’m still emitting radiation even though I’m well out of the quarantine period of six days for pregnant women and children and two days for general public.

In Secondary Inspection I retrieved the card provided to me by Excel Diagnostics – Thank God I kept it. They asked me several questions about the procedure all the while scanning me with a radiation detector, which first indicated I was emitting “Plutonium”. The following several scans revealed an “Unknown” substance.

Since they couldn’t determine the isotope, Border Agents asked me to come into the US Border Customs & Immigration building while they “called it in”.

While I sat and waited in the lobby, the only other person who entered the building for Secondary Inspection was a man with a turban, who was held by Agents at his wrists and taken into a room. I have no idea why he was selected for additional questioning, but the skeptical liberal in me drew some conclusions. The Agents never doubted my story and were only following protocols when I was told they’d have to “call it in”. There was no holding of my wrists and I wasn’t taken into a room, even after testing positive for Plutonium. Instead the Agents offered me a bathroom, let me hold onto my passport, called me “Ma’am” and promised they would be quick. I’m not trying to make a moral of the story case here, but a large part of me felt for this man and others who endure this type of treatment throughout their lives.

For those of you who have travelled to other countries for PRRT or another radiation procedure, this story is not unique. Had this experience occurred while I was a cancer underclassman, it might have upset me, but as I enter my senior year as a survivor, I was able to call my husband laughing as Agents cleared me 30 minutes later.

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Cloudy with a high chance of affordable healthcare

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