When you have cancer there are a number of things you have to deal with, both physically and mentally. You know the deal: the drugs, the nausea, the hair loss. But getting kicked off an airplane shouldn’t be something you have to encounter.
Mulitple Myleoma is a blood cancer where one of the proteins that usually help fight infections goes rogue. The protein starts taking over your bone marrow, eventually eating away at the bone itself. As this cancer affects the tools your body uses to fight infections it impacts your ability to fight the germs and viruses everyone else easily deals with daily. Your immune system is suppressed and the slightest exposure can be dangerous, if not deadly. For this reason, all of us that have this disease, have masks that we wear to avoid exposure to these everyday germs.
In Japan it’s commonplace for someone to wear a mask when they’re sick, as a courtesy to others. If we were in Japan then we wouldn’t be looked at strangely. But we’re not in Japan, and if you wear a mask, people will stare, and wonder if you have Ebola. You’re trying to prevent yourself from getting sick, and you’re treated like you’re going to make everyone else sick.
You didn’t mean to stare like that. You didn’t mean to grab the tissue from your pocket or purse after you saw me wearing a mask. You didn’t mean to move to another seat after you saw me wearing a mask. You don’t mean to do these things but it happens. And we don’t care as we probably did the same thing — before we wore the mask.
So…the mask — it sucks. If you wear glasses it fogs them. It makes your nose sweaty. It messes up your hair and it is uncomfortable to wear that elastic band.
But it does keep you from dying.
Without the mask, the common cold can make those with a compromised immune system really sick. But the key point here is that without the mask we might get sick. We aren’t already sick, we have cancer, which means our immune system is compromised and we might get sick, we aren’t sick now, we might get sick. But we’re not sick now, and that’s the important point.
Which brings me to the purpose of my post — April 6th, 2015, a friend of mine was flying Alaska Airlines home from Hawaii to San Jose. Due to the nature of the situation — a small, enclosed place, lots of germs, compromised immune system — my friend was wearing her mask. She was dealing with the questions, “Do I wear the mask and make sure I don’t get sick?”, or, “Do I not wear the mask and avoid the stares and the uncomfortable situation for both me and my family?”
How many of you have made a comment about the germs that exist on an airplane? How many of you have considered how difficult it would be to get on that plane, if those germs could kill you. Would you wear the mask? I mean, you’d have a sweaty nose, bad hair, fogged glasses — but you wouldn’t die. What would you do?
My friend didn’t have a choice. She was asked, “do you need anything?” and she responded, “well I might need a bit of extra time to board, sometimes I feel weak.”
Sometimes I Feel Weak
That phrase resulted in Alaska Airlines calling a doctor and having her, and her family, physically removed from the plane. She wasn’t sick, she was trying to NOT get sick. But someone saw the mask and determined that a doctor’s note was required, to ensure the safety and well being of the passenger. Alaska Airlines’ response was to post an explanation of their policies, which I’ve quoted, in part, here but provided a link to the entire post at the bottom:
Are customers who wear a face mask permitted to fly without a doctor’s note? Yes. In the rare event a customer indicates that he or she is not feeling well, or may have difficulty flying, it is our policy to follow the advice of our on-call MedLink medical professionals.
What advice do you have for people traveling with cancer or other diseases? Anyone who is receiving medical treatment that might impact their ability to fly should check with their physician to determine if it is safe to fly.
for all policies: http://blog.alaskaair.com/2015/04/08/note-to-customers/
So my friend wasn’t sick. She didn’t indicate she wasn’t feeling well or may have difficulty flying. She was going to have chemotherapy the next day but she hadn’t been undergoing any medical treatment that may have impacted her ability to fly. She had just spent the week in Hawaii, with her family. I know — I saw the pictures on Facebook. She wasn’t sick — she was relaxing, in a beautiful place, with her beautiful family –
and she was then escorted off the Alaskan Airlines flight.
“I’m being removed as if I’m a criminal or contagious,” is a quote from the video posted on Facebook that evening here. From that one post there are over 700 shares and a massive number of comments. But it doesn’t replace the fact that she was kicked off an Alaskan Airlines flight for wearing a mask and admitting that sometimes she feels weak.
Alaskan Airlines has refunded the cost of her flight and the cost of the hotel for an extra night in Hawaii. And my friend, has setup a page via the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation (The MMRF) and my friend has donated the refunded amount to The MMRF. But how do you pay for the humiliation? How do you explain to your kids the right way to deal with people? How do you personally deal with this and what may happen next time? How do you answer the question we asked earlier? Do you wear the mask?
I applaud Liz for her courage. I applaud Liz’ family for their courage dealing with this situation. I applaud Liz for ‘taking one for the team’ and helping to raise awareness for our disease and the issues a cancer patient faces. I applaud Liz’ friends for getting the word out there and making sure Alaskan Airlines realized their mistake. I applaud Liz for being strong, setting the right example and taking this in stride.
Which gives me the ability and freedom to rant, on her behalf. She’s taken this well and tried to make this a fundraising ability, putting a nice spin on a really bad situation. I, however, am unattached to the situation and can take offense at the actions that occurred. I disagree with what Alaskan Airlines have done thus far and don’t believe they’ve ‘answered’ for the actions they took. But Liz is ok so I’ll leave my efforts to the writing of this post.
Everyone has a story and has something that just isn’t right; but this is so far from right I had to write a post. As a cancer patient, thanks for reading. As a friend of Liz’, thanks for reading. If this note struck a nerve, Liz has setup a donation site via the MMRF here:
For more info and links regarding her story, use these links:
Liz’ original post on Facebook
NBC Nightly News