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a woman in the hospital about to have a bone marrow biopsy with a doctor standing behind her and her husband holding her hands

Bone Marrow Biopsies Are No Walk in the Park

Acronyms are a short way to describing something but it’s usually rare to have one that has two totally different meanings like this. The BMX I speak of is a far different experience than riding a BMX bike. Many of those with multiple myeloma and other blood cancers know all too well the plight of yearly bone marrow biopsies (or aspirations). Bone marrow biopsy is often abbreviated to BMX.

What is a bone marrow biopsy?

The National Cancer Institue describe a bone marrow biopsy as “a procedure in which a small sample of bone with bone marrow inside it is removed, usually from the hip bone.”1

Ouch! Doggone it

During my first unexpected experience with this unknown procedure, I could be heard screaming all the way in the reception area. The experience was/is unsettling and stressful. I always say that with technology and the advancement of medicine, it still blows me away how some procedures still seem so very barbaric. Though I understand the need to extract these specific marrow plasma cells mostly from the back hip bone (iliac crest)… well, let’s just say it’s a hard pill to swallow during the process!

Hopeful for a better BMX future

There was a buzz for the last few years about improvements to liquid BMX. It seems we still have a way to go, but it’s clear that these samples are pertinent in telling us about our cancers. From my research, the developments seem to point to how a patient can better tolerate the process, not having options or better ways to test and obtain samples. Perhaps in the future, there will be a day when we can get what we need with precision through something like simple blood work… I hope!

 

What does a bone marrow biopsy feel like?

For the many patients who’ve become familiar with the process and other procedures of multiple myeloma, there’s something about the BMX that we have to mentally prepare to handle. If someone who doesn’t know what this was all about asked how this procedure feels, it’s a different experience for everyone. For me, a BMX feels like a churning suction cup installed in your bone. The pressure is unbearable. It’s really a discomfort more than it is a pain. But because you know what has taken place, it feels so unreal and invasive that it makes the whole experience daunting. Many of us have our battle wounds, but no matter how many years with myeloma, this is an experience that’s hard to get past.

I recall looking online at exactly what is entailed with a BMXC procedure because, quite frankly, I always close my eyes and hold on to my husband (and sometimes the nurse’s) hand. I’ve never had my eyes open fully to see exactly how they go about it. I know this is a sterile procedure and there are a few needles involved to numb the area (may I add the numbing needle is painful, as well). Anyway, I was about to watch a video but I couldn’t go through seeing what was happening. Why see that when I’m living it for myself, right? Many people I’ve spoken with can’t handle the steps and ask to be sedated, which is not openly suggested. I try to take on and get through the whole process with toughness like the many of you.

BMX vs. BMX

Perhaps the two BMX acronyms are slightly comparable. When we think about BMX racing, it involves speed, jumping, a perfect spot to run the course, and a finish line. Well, with a bone marrow biopsy/aspiration, the perfect spot for the incision is inspected. There’s no room for jumping in this reference because any slight movement is a very bad thing and this whole process can take anywhere from 40- 60 minutes including prepping, so speed isn’t there either. But, we also have a finish line. We made it, sore and all, but we get through this every time.

The time to fight is now, with integrity, grace, hope, and a smile….when you feel like it

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The Blood-Cancer.com team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. Bone Marrow Biopsy. National Cancer Institute. Available at https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/def/bone-marrow-biopsy?redirect=true

Comments

  • RCGJR
    2 days ago

    I take in my Bose speaker and ask the staff for music requests. The music helps everyone, especially me.

  • Yolanda Brunson-Sarrabo moderator author
    2 days ago

    That is great you’ve found a way to cope with the process of this procedure. Everyone has there own way getting through this. The last one completed they provided me with music but that didn’t make much difference in my case (smile).

  • c.e.connely@gmail.com
    2 weeks ago

    My first bone marrow biopsy was done in my hometown of Tulsa, Oklahoma, May 2017. They put me to sleep, so no pain. My second one was done November 2017 in Houston, Texas at MD Anderson. I was awake the whole time! The nice ladies taking care of me kept visiting with me. I think to keep my mind off of the needle drilling into my bone. ( I know that distraction trick!) They told me I did very well considering it was only my second one. I thought, how many times will I have to endure with this torture? I agree with Yolanda. Looks like in the 21st century there could be an easier way! I remember months after those biopsies feeling pain when something bumped my hip such as a door or when a child gave me a strong hug.

  • Yolanda Brunson-Sarrabo moderator author
    1 week ago

    @c.e.connely@gmail.com
    Thank you for reading and yes we all hope of the new day for a better and less painful way around this procedure. The very best!

  • Leslie
    2 weeks ago

    I had only one, it was done in the doctors office. The first numbing injection is the worst part. I don’t remember any pain after.

  • Yolanda Brunson-Sarrabo moderator author
    1 week ago

    @leslie
    That’s great! I hope you continue the same positive experience. Best!

  • Leslie
    1 week ago

    Thank you, I’m hoping I don’t have to have more but I should also mention that I have a very high pain tolerance.

  • tinasurvives
    2 weeks ago

    After reading the this story about having a bone marrow biopsy I feel I must share my experiences. I have probably had about 18-20, actually lost count but very thankful that I haven’t had one or needed one in 14 years. I had AML and a stem cell transplant & am a survivor!
    It’s a shame that anybody should have to go thru what you went thru. I will say that my first few biopsies were similar to what you described but were done by a pathologist at a small hospital. The rest were done at Siteman Cancer Center in St. Louis Missouri(BJC Washington U)
    They were done by nurses who did all the biopsies and were fabulous. I mean painless & not bad at all. My last one was pretty long ago but my husband actually had one the other day(same place) and I sat with him. They actually gave him Demerol And Ativan and he barely remembers having the biopsy. He didn’t feel anything. I think the key is to numb the tissue around the bone. (And drugs)
    Hope nobody ever has to go thru what you did. There’s really no reason. Bless you!

  • Yolanda Brunson-Sarrabo moderator author
    1 week ago

    @tinasurvives thank you for reading and I must agree, it does matter who does it and how the treated area is numbed. The whole point is limiting the pain, and if the Oncologist or NP hurry the steps and not let that numbing med work through it really does defeat the purpose of avoiding the pain. The very best!

  • PattiAnn
    2 weeks ago

    I am sorry that you have had such terrible experiences. I think it depends upon where you have the bone marrow done and who does it. My first was done at the local teaching hospital where I was first hospitalized and diagnosed with AML. I am a nurse so at least knew what would be involved. This bone marrow was done by an oncology resident assisted by his colleague, another oncology resident. They both could not get it right and ended up having to call the attendant physician to do it. It was uncomfortable. I next had one done two weeks later at Memorial Sloan Kettering by my oncologist there. He was great. It was quick and I actually felt very little. I have since had three more there, all done by nurse practitioners who were even better than my oncologist. I found the two female NP’s were gentler than the male, but they all were kind, quick, and really caused me no pain. I think the staff at a cancer center do so many of these that they are skilled and can do them more comfortably because they do so many.

  • Yolanda Brunson-Sarrabo moderator author
    1 week ago

    @pattiann Thank you for reading. Yes, I do agree it does make a difference who does this; however, it’s still not an easy procedure to get through regardless. I’m happy you got top-notch NP hands with little uncomfortable issues. The very best!

  • RBK99
    2 weeks ago

    I had a bone marrow biopsy last December. It was done in the hospital, under sedation, and it was a piece of cake. I can’t believe they did yours while you were awake. How barbaric!

  • Ann Harper moderator
    2 weeks ago

    @yolandabrunson-sarrabo That sounds simply awful. I’m so sorry you had to go through that. I couldn’t even imagine. Thanks for sharing.

  • Susan Gonsalves moderator
    3 weeks ago

    @yolandabrunson-sarrabo Thank you for writing about this topic. In my mind, it was the weirdest discomfort–like a drilling. Ugh. I just stared at the wall, non-sedated, and clutched a pillow until it was over. It makes some other tests seem like a walk in the park. Hope you feel better now it is over.-Susan

  • Yolanda Brunson-Sarrabo moderator author
    2 weeks ago

    @susanmae yes, same sentiments. Sorry, you’ve experienced a similar experience. We just do what we need to do with our heads up with yet another thing we’ve conquered. Best!

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