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Blood Cancer Misery Loves Company

Last updated: August 2020

Recently, I wrote a blog entry in which I mentioned bone marrow biopsies (BMB). If you are lucky enough to have avoided one, a BMB is a part of some blood cancer diagnoses that involves taking a sample of marrow from inside your hip bone. Getting one is about as fun as it sounds.

I was a little surprised at how passionately some people responded with their own stories about their BMBs. I’ve seen the same thing happen in online discussion groups when BMBs are mentioned. Some people found theirs easy (mine wasn’t too bad). Some found them excruciating. Some were given a general anesthetic. Others wished they had. But almost everyone had an opinion and wanted to share it.

Why we share our experiences

I probably shouldn’t have been surprised. Misery, as they say, loves company.

That phrase usually means a sad person wants to make other people sad. But that’s not really what it means for cancer patients and survivors, when we talk about our shared experiences. It’s more that, in a strange way, it feels nice to share an experience with someone who has been through it. Even if the experience wasn’t exactly the same, sometimes we feel a little better knowing our experience wasn’t as bad (“Really? I hardly felt anything during my BMB. I guess I have a high pain tolerance”). Or maybe we feel a little more heroic if it’s worse than someone else’s (“I almost passed out from my BMB. You’re lucky!”).

The things we have in common

And there are certainly lots of experiences that we share. Probably more than we’d like to.

Like getting a blood test.

I see the same doctor, and most of the same nurses, at every appointment. But I couldn’t tell you how many different phlebotomists who have taken my blood in my 12 years with follicular lymphoma.

Most are good at their jobs, but I can remember one who did the job so well that I swear I didn’t even feel the needle going in. I’m pretty sure she doesn’t work at the hospital anymore. But every time I go for a blood draw, I watch the door whenever someone comes out and calls a name, hoping it will be her. The way that others in the room look up, they’re probably missing her, too.

And we’ve all shared the PET scan experience. I dread the prep most of all – even more than the scanxiety. The place I go to for scans now makes me drink a very thick, very sweet, white liquid contrast agent. It’s so thick that it’s hard to get down. I call it my barium milkshake. I take small sips and try not to think about it.

I remember one time, sitting in the waiting room, drinking my milkshake when a young man came in. He was clearly a regular gym-goer and wore a fire department t-shirt. The nurse brought him his big bottle of barium milkshake. He poured a cup and pounded it like it was beer at a frat party. He poured and pounded another a few seconds later. I smiled to myself. I knew this pace couldn’t last. He made it halfway through the third cup and then had to rest. He and I both took baby sips together from there.

Sharing makes things easier

None of us wants to be miserable. And we probably don’t want to drag others into our misery, either.

But there’s something about being able to share a bad experience with someone else that just makes it a little easier. Unfortunately – and fortunately – we all have a lot in common to share with each other.

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