Looking for the Good in Bone Marrow Biopsies

You wouldn’t think a person who’s had multiple bone marrow biopsies would have many good things to say about them except that they are the gold standard of diagnostic tools.

But there’s something else: They can give you the confidence that you can get through a lot.

You know how they say everything is relative. Well, I figured that relative to a bone marrow biopsy, a worrisome upcoming test would be a walk in the park. Only kidding, about the walk in the park part, that is. I’m serious, though, about calming down when realizing that the test couldn’t be as bad.

The colposcopy

The test in question was a colposcopy, in which a doctor closely examines a woman’s cervix, vagina, and vulva for signs of disease. The Mayo Clinic explains: “During colposcopy, your doctor uses a special instrument called a colposcope (a microscope with a light). Your doctor may recommend a colposcopy if your Pap test result is abnormal. If your doctor finds an unusual area of cells during your colposcopy procedure, a sample of tissue can be collected for laboratory testing (biopsy).”1

My Pap test had not shown signs of cancer, but it had contained abnormal cells that could be precancerous. So that is why I needed the procedure. I knew that it would be more of a production than a Pap smear, and I started to get nervous. That is common, as the Mayo Clinic website explains, “Many women experience anxiety as they wait for their colposcopy exams… You may find it hard to concentrate, and you may have difficulty sleeping.” I told a nurse friend that I was nervous. She reminded me of my experience getting through bone marrow biopsies. Once I put it in perspective, I got less anxious.

Sure enough, it was uncomfortable but not as bad. The waiting for results (still not in as of this writing) is also not as bad. Because when waiting for my bone marrow biopsy results, I was worried that I could have cancer. With this, I already know it isn’t cancer, though it could be something requiring surgery.

A colposcopy typically lasts 10 to 20 minutes. I don’t know exactly how long mine lasted. But it was a little too long! When the doctor, near the end, asked how I was doing, I said something along the lines of, “I’m kind of done with this.”

Not as bad as a bone marrow biopsy

I think maybe I was trying to be a little bit funny. I don’t think I ever tried to be funny during a bone marrow biopsy.

These take longer, about 30 minutes for the two parts: aspiration of the liquid portion of the bone marrow and chipping off of a tiny piece of the solid part. The two-part format is difficult. When you feel like you’ve had enough after part one, you still have a whole other part to go.

You’d think the chipping part might be worse, but the aspiration was harder. It felt so strange. I remember really appreciating the doctor telling me when to breathe in and when to let the breath out. If you’re facing one of these, just remember: they give you good tools to use to get through it, and after it’s over, you can put it in your mental toolbox to use for comparison’s sake.

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