Can sweating kill you?
Yes, it can. Does it happen often? Of course not. Can you prevent it? Quite easily.
This story is less about sweating and more about the loved one I felt guilty for seeing go.
In November 2015, my aunt is a woman whose shadow I would be proud to become. She is a woman who raised 5 daughters and a son (mostly on her own, till their post-graduate degree), takes care of her dementia-afflicted husband and manages their family property (including the court hearings of a property with legal baggage). She’s somehow managed to never take a house-maid, spends her nights in prayer and never does less than everything for her relatives. She is my ma’s best friend, the last relative I cared about and the last one who cared about us.
In December 2015, she visits the local GP for a lump she’d been feeling for a few months. She was finally concerned now because she felt so tired all day. The next one year and nine months are a series of very vivid memories of a downward spiral I never want to witness again.
[Skip this part and move on to the next if you’d like to skip medical jargon]
1- her GP refers her to an oncologist because the ultrasound is suspicious
2- her oncologist finds Stage II B breast cancer based on it’s size: an ER negative, PR positive, HER2 negative ductal carcinoma with one positive axillary lymph node and a negative bone scan
3-She gets surgery, a unilateral, modified radical mastectomy, and 6 cycles of chemo
4- A bone scan one month post-chemo shows many small lesions on her skull, ribs, vertebrae and pelvic bone. Her cancer has spread and is now stage 4. This is September 2016, the doctor tells her she can’t be cured but they can increase her life-span and decrease her pain by radio.
5-She can’t take the radio till her bones are less fragile and she takes 8 bisphosphonate injections over the next 2 months. Then goes in for two radio sessions.
6-Her next bone scan shows lung metastases, she doesn’t seem to improve and the doctor tells it’s her not going to. This is March 2017.
The next few months, she spent at home. Surrounded by frantic children, oblivious grandchildren and many, many phone calls from everyone who couldn’t be there. She suffered severe back pain and profuse sweating. This is where our story comes back. She suffered from profuse sweating.
You see my role this entire time was to explain their medical reports - be the on-call, google searching, doctor when they needed. I’d never thought the sweating was lethal. It’s summer in a humid, tropical country, I thought. Except she’d have to change every few hours - She’d catch colds from her sweating- She wasn’t able to sleep due to the pain and the sweats. Slowly, she started to lose her awareness, follow-up consultations attributed this to brain metastases but scans were never done. She never wanted to go back to the doctors. On the 21st of August, she stopped talking. She was rushed to the ER and admitted due to low sodium. A CT scan revealed a very edematous brain, with no clear signs of metastases but you couldn’t be sure. Over the next few days, she improved a little but it didn’t matter. On the 25th, she was gone.
In that summary, I don’t talk of the millions of day-to-day struggles, all the insane pain and trouble she’d gone through, all the times my heart sank seeing her reports. Her desire to keep living seemed stronger with each hit. We lost a legend you’ll never knew, and we lost her to sweating. I can’t help but feel silly about how saline water administered in the right time could’ve stopped this. And I wish that no one else does.
So if there’s one thing I want you to take from this, it is to always replenish large volumes of water lost with saline and not clear water (add orsaline powder to your water). If you ever have unusual volume of sweating, visit your physician to have it tested. And of course, each case varies.
If there’s a second thing I want you to take from this, it is the reason the word cancer carries this insane weight.
Five hours after my aunt’s burial, I sat through a group discussion on breast cancer. The doctor stated how cancer is a disease that affects families, not individuals. He couldn’t have been more correct. In an inevitable flood of tears, I realized the last thing this insane turn of events taught me. Of course, anything that affects your loved ones also affects you, but each step of this journey is a journey of it’s own. It takes a toll on you and your loved ones from every angle. Every chemo side effect that is a word in your book, is a few hundred days for each patient. Every few millimeters of metastasis is hours and hours of sleeplessness and groaning and tears. Despite the many breaking-a-bad-news questions and skits and lessons we take, your soul will diminish each time if you could imagine the daily repercussions of each bone scan you explain to a patient. Despite how natural a stage of life death is, there is nothing natural about suffering. Cancer is a disease that affects families, not individuals. So as families, we should do our best of avoid it and screen for it to keep it at bay or catch it early on.