The Trauma of the Bone Marrow Biopsy

Taryn Hillin
4 min readDec 20, 2021
Me, prepping for my bone marrow biopsy at UCLA.

Since my cancer diagnosis, I’ve been through a lot — surgery, port implantation, chemotherapy, radiation, brachytherapy, the list goes on. But last Friday was my very first bone marrow biopsy.

Prior to this biopsy, I had heard horror stories about how painful it is. Luckily for me, my oncologist set me up to have some “twilight” drugs, that would allegedly put me under for the procedure.

Unfortunately for me, the experience still felt traumatic AF.

I’m not sure what it was exactly, but something in me broke during this exam. As I lay on a CT scanner, bare ass up in the air, and medical staff fluttering around me, my anxiety got the best of me. As the scanner raised up — a sign the procedure was beginning — I nervously asked “Am I being sedated? I’m really nervous.” The nurse held my hand and gave me the first dose of Fentanyl. A few minutes later, I heard the drill they would be digging into my back hip in order to extract the bone marrow from my body.

Maybe it was the sound of the drill, maybe it was the sting from the local numbing medication, perhaps it was once again being in a CT scanner (I get scanned every 90 days), or maybe the pressure I could feel as they dug into my back — whatever it was, it broke me open and I began crying. Tears streamed down my face, into my mask and oxygen tube, and the nurse quickly grabbed my hand. “Are you okay? ” she asked. I was fine — it really wasn’t that bad — but she relinquished the second dose of Fentanyl anyway. All I wanted to do was float away and never set foot in another hospital.

The procedure ended, I was sufficiently high on drugs, and my husband picked me up.

Thirty minutes later, checking out of our hotel, the valet guy asked me to move the car. As a passenger who was still loopy from Fentanyl, I didn’t know what to say — so I started crying again. I’m not sure what came over me but I wailed out “I’m so sorry, I’m a cancer patient … I just had a bone marrow biopsy … and I can’t move the carrrrrr.” Sufficiently freaked out the valet guy backed away from the crying cancer girl and said it was no problem after all.

But the tears didn’t end there. I felt depressed for the next two days. I was tired from the trip to Los Angeles, exhausted from the drugs, and pretty much over being poked and prodded. When you have cancer everything is an emergency. Fever, go to the ER. Lump in your stomach, get a biopsy. Low blood counts, have bone marrow extracted. Between the scans every 90 days (PET & CT), the brain MRIs, weekly infusions, port flushes, CTC tests, blood draws, hormone checks, and general fear and anxiety over cancer coming back or catching a virus while neutropenic it just feels like … a lot. And I was over it.

I sat on my bed and cried while my husband listened. Suddenly, everything seemed horrible. I was sick of Covid, sick of cancer, and sick of being “sick”. The truth is, they’re extracting my bone marrow to see if I have leukemia or cancer in my bones. It’s a precaution, and I know I’m cancer-free — but still, it’s scary as hell.

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been re-watching old Sex and The City episodes and I dream about their early-2000s freedom. The freedom to have sex (I lost my hormones and reproductive parts), the freedom to walk into a bar without fearing a deadly infection, the freedom to live their lives. The bone marrow biopsy, somehow, became the symbol for how trapped I really feel sometimes.

So I cried and cried … and cried some more. My husband hugged me, told me I had every right to be sad, and that going through all of these things is hard. He didn’t try to fix me or tell me to just “be grateful to be alive” (which of course I am). He comforted me and let me be a child, crying at the unfairness of life.

Then, miraculously, twenty minutes later there we were laughing at an episode of Always Sunny In Philadelphia. The trauma of the bone marrow biopsy finally fading away. All I needed to do was vent; to allow myself the space to cry and be sad, and then let it all go.

So if you’re reading this and feeling particularly overwhelmed from the holidays or Omicron or whatever it is you’re going through — allow yourself the space to feel sad, because sometimes getting it out is the only way to let it go.

I have an Instagram account dedicated to health, wellness, and cancer prevention. Follow me @ Theanticancerlife

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Taryn Hillin

Writer, journalist, media strategist. Sony TV Diverse Writers '21; Universal Writers '22; Formerly of HuffPost, Fusion, TMZ, and VP Strategy ENTITY. Yale grad.