Diarrhea and cancer. It’s that taboo subject that no one ever wants to talk about and yet, it is an incredibly stressful (and unfortunately normal part) of cancer.
When my dad was diagnosed with Lung Cancer we were catapulted into a whole new world of treatment, scans and not so fun side effects. We decided early on, that no matter what happened in the future, we were going to take advantage of every single good day…
And, we did. In fact, we battled side by side for 21 months, finished 2 bucket lists and talked about everything under the sun.
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If someone you love has been diagnosed with cancer and you don’t know where to start, we can help.
One of the most problematic side effects we encountered during our journey was diarrhea.
There is no instruction manual to help you navigate diarrhea or cancer for that matter. Just a whole lot of trial and error and a TON of frustration.
While this may not be the most pleasant subject, when you are struggling through uncontrollable diarrhea you need information about ANYTHING that will help you get through this.
Diarrhea is a pretty common side effect during cancer and can be caused by…
- The cancer itself.
- Side effects of treatment.
- Medication side effects.
- Other illnesses (like the stomach bug, or C Diff)
Cancer-related diarrhea seems much different and much more intense than “regular” diarrhea…
It’s explosive, intense and it came without warning. It also lasted for much longer (sometimes days) than a “normal” bout of diarrhea. It came out of nowhere and there was no time to prepare or in some cases, even make it home in time to deal with this privately.
Talk about stressful. Here is someone who is fighting like a warrior, who then gets slammed with persistent and unrelenting diarrhea!
Because clearly they don’t have enough stuff to deal with already. ????
Can you even imagine the anxiety that someone would feel when this happens during a 2-hour car ride with no rest areas? It’s pretty intense for everyone.
It’s horrible and embarrassing for your loved one to have to deal with this at all, but when you’re not at home and you’re totally caught off guard, it’s really awful.
What’s worse is, the farther into the journey you get and the longer your loved one has been fighting, the more difficult and challenging it becomes to physically move around…
And running to the bathroom is not as easy as it once was. So, there might be times when they don’t make it to the bathroom in time.
There will also be times that they will need to see the doctor, despite the diarrhea.
Meaning they may need to travel in a car, possibly for an extended period of time (for us it was two hours each way to our treatment center at Memorial Sloan Kettering). Then make it through an appointment, as well as the ride home.
So, for us, unless we stayed in the city, we are talking 5-6 hours before we were able to be home…
It is mortifying to try to deal with something like this when you can’t just stay home, not to mention there are some pretty serious risks that come with excessive diarrhea. In addition to the panic, anxiety and embarrassment that comes with all of this, you can end up in a pretty serious situation if you don’t handle this right.
Where to Start With Diarrhea and Cancer
1. Start by calling the doctor
What do they recommend?
We ended up in the emergency room more than once because of dehydration, as much as we tried, we could not manage to get enough extra fluids in. You don’t want to ignore the fluid issue, becoming severely dehydrated could be deadly.
2. Increase fluids
When someone has diarrhea, they lose water (dehydration) and they lose electrolytes (salt, potassium, calcium, etc.). When you are losing excessive amounts of liquids you need to replace that stuff.
Gatorade is a great option because it replaces not just the liquid but also the electrolytes. If you don’t replace the water, IV fluids at the hospital become necessary.
Becoming severely dehydrated can result in death (and my guess is no one is fighting like a warrior so they can perish from lack of fluids!), so if you are struggling with diarrhea and cancer, and you can’t get enough fluids in, you should head to the hospital.
3. Anti- Diarrhea Medication
Loperamide, (you probably know it by the brand name, Imodium A-D) is the recommended medicine for diarrhea. According to Web MD, “it works by slowing down the movement of the gut, making stools less watery and happen less frequently.”
Check with your doctor or pharmacist to see if there are any additional additives recommended, but for us, they felt that Loperamide with no additional additives would work the best.
It defiantly helped, but it did not “cure” the issue.
4. BRAT Diet
We tried the BRAT diet, that we learned growing up. Bananas, rice, applesauce and toast were the “go to” foods for diarrhea when I was a kid. They are plain and pretty bland and my whole childhood this diet was what everyone recommended when you had diarrhea.
It didn’t help much, but toast and chicken broth (which we added) did seem to go down a little easier than everything else.
Equipment To Help Manage Diarrhea And Cancer
A bedside commode is a really great (and fairly cheap) investment.
The reality is, the further into the journey you get, the ability to “run to the bathroom” changes significantly. It might not be as easy as it used to be and the difference in the ability to move may result in an accident.
I can tell you from experience, the accident itself is nothing compared to the stress, anxiety, and mortification that occurs as a result of the accident.
Having a commode right next to the bed is much easier and more convenient for the “not so good days” (and there can be a lot of those). And thanks to the commode liners below, you can tackle this issue with dignity and still be as sanitary and hygienic as possible.
6. Commode Liners
Some brilliant mind created disposable liners for the commode so you can literally tie up the bag once everything is finished and dispose of everything in the garbage. Although we still recommend that you wear gloves, this method ensures that you don’t have to mess around, trying to clean up and handle human excrement.
They also have liners that contain gelling properties so that liquids like diarrhea turn to a more “solid” or gel-like consistency. Basically, it converts diarrhea into a gel making it super easy to discard and reduces any leaking that could occur from a liquid.
Note: If you’re on a tight budget, my mom used Hannaford Medium Garbage bags for $1.99 in a pinch and they worked just fine!
7. Mini Poo Powder
If you get the liners without the gelling properties, a few scoops of this powder will turn everything solid (gel-like) for you. My mom swears by this stuff!
Then you can tie it up and toss it away just like above.
8. Bed Pan/Bed Pan Liners
A bed pan is handy in the event that your loved one can not get off the bed (and honestly some days are just like that).
The bed pan stays right on the bed and slides underneath your loved one’s bottom. These can also be lined for an easier and more sanitary clean up. We used the same liners for the commode and the bed pan, so there is no reason to buy a second set of liners.
9. Baby Wipes
Truth moment. Wiping the rectal area over and over with toilet paper trying to get clean hurts. And a painful and raw tush is not what your loved one needs on top of all of the other stuff they are dealing with.
We stocked up on these.
Baby wipes are softer, much better at cleaning and gentler on your skin. They are 50x times better than wash clothes (which can be really abrasive to skin and sensitive areas), toilet paper, etc. because they are softer and gentler.
As an added bonus, just throw them in a bucket of warm water and they are AMAZING for bathing as well, you can read more about that here…
You can get baby wipes at your local store or you can find them here…
10. Hand Washing
The drawback to the commode is there is no sink to wash your hands afterward, so we needed to have a plan for dealing with that.
We used Germ Away Wipes to make sure hands stayed safe and sanitary even during the worst times.
Bonus: because they came in a different container than the baby wipes, so it was easy to tell which was which!
11. Toilet Seat Riser
This is an extremely helpful tool for people struggling with muscle strength and control because it gives you a boost and makes it much easier to stand up off the toilet. By eliminating the need to pull yourself up, people struggling with muscle strength can independently get up.
Independence during a cancer journey is a pretty big deal because honestly, cancer has a sneaky way of stealing personal independence, little by little. We made it our mission to find ways we could steal it back.
A toilet seat riser is the cheap and easy answer for anyone struggling to stand up from the toilet.
And it’s easy to transport discreetly. This is our toilet seat riser which we carried for almost two years all over the place. To hotels, family and friend’s houses, hospital trips, this thing has been around the block, a few times.
And our “discreet travel system” is simply a pretty bag and a designed pillowcase over top of the riser. We recommend throwing a pack of Lysol wipes in the bag as well in case you want to wipe anything down when you’re done. And, that’s it.
You pull it out of the bag, place it on the toilet and voila! You’re good to go!
12. North Shore Supreme Briefs
If we are talking about diarrhea and cancer, let’s get real…
Depends are great for urine. They are not great for diarrhea, bowel movements or two-hour long car rides with no rest stops.
As you get further into this journey, things might change. When it’s time to go, there is no “hold on a second”. Your loved one may have to go right now and waiting might not be an option.
We found that being prepared was the best way to handle this.
These briefs are amazing. They are comfortable, absorbent (they can hold a lot) and NOTHING is getting through these suckers. Seriously, nothing.
These briefs are solid.
They are also pricey, but they are WELL WORTH THE MONEY for the stress and embarrassment saved. And to cut down on costs, use them only when you need them.
13. Chux (cloth and disposable underpads)
Chux are a big square of additional protection that you can put between a person and a bed, car seat, chair, couch, etc.
They are absorbent and can help protect car seats, mattresses, etc. against bed wetting and accidents.
We like the disposable version because you can just toss them once you’ve used them. They help your loved one stay clean and dry despite the stressful and uncertain circumstances!
Chux are a simple and effective way to create an extra layer of protection.
14. Waterproof Mattress Protector
The reality of diarrhea and cancer is sometimes your loved one will be spending days in bed.
This is a MUST have because at some point there will be an accident and you will be totally prepared and ready. Not to mention a mattress protector protects against everything including food messes, kid messes, pet messes…
Whatever type of messes you’ve got going on, this will help keep your mattress from being destroyed AND absorbing the odor of whatever mess you happen to be dealing with.
15. Disposable Gloves
These are essential to have so you are ready for whatever cancer is throwing at you. They help you keep everything safe and sanitary and reduce the risk of infection by a lot. You probably don’t need me to tell you why these are useful.
We literally use them for everything!
- Meal Prep
- Handling medication (or applying medication patches)
- Washing laundry
- Taking the garbage out
- First Aid
- Applying ointment, lotions
They can be used for anything and everything. And when you’re done, just pull them off and throw them away. Note: Check the size! I bought small accidentally and I don’t have small hands!
16. Paper Towels
Again, probably won’t have to tell you why you need these. But I can tell you that life will suck if you run out.
Great for clean-ups, but most importantly they’re disposable, so you can toss them and never have to deal with it again.
17. Persil Hygiene Disinfectant Rinse
This is a disinfectant rinse that you add to the washer for laundry that you want to be disinfected (like sheets after an accident).
We used this one because my mom has had great results from their laundry detergent, and it was recommended by one of the nurses in the emergency room. We really only used this for loads that were contaminated with feces, blood or other body fluids and needed to be disinfected.
It’s color safe so you can use it on sheets, clothing, whatever… and it worked for all of the sheets we had. As a bonus, it’s made for sensitive skin.
Fun Fact: The bottle came with instructions written in German, but we were able to find the information we needed from Amazon. Essentially, you add it to the fabric softener dispenser and it not only disinfects the laundry but it comes out smelling fresh and clean.
18. Lysol Disinfecting Wipes
Our go-to for quick and easy wipe downs of…
- Mattress covers
- Equipment (commodes, bedpans, urinals, garbage cans)
- Light switches
- Cell phones (the dirtiest things on the planet)
- V. remotes
- And practically everything under the sun.
19. Anti-Fungal Cream
We were given this cream by a doctor to treat a rash that developed as a side effect of the chemo in the very beginning of our journey. We then used this cream through the remainder of our cancer journey and then through our Hospice Journey.
This cream is amazing for protecting against fungal infections, skin abrasions and the chafing and rubbing that can happen from extended wearing of North Shore Supreme Briefs.
Hospice showed us that just slathering it all over your loved one’s bottom, (to the extent that it is comfortable) helps keep that area healthy. The cream acts as a barrier between the skin and the brief.
20. Unicorn Gold Spray
We didn’t know about this until after my dad passed away, but since then, I have had loads of people tell me that this spray is amazing.
What I can tell you for sure is that having diarrhea in a hospital emergency room surrounded by people is stressful and embarrassing.
And to add a bit of humor (not at the time, but later, much later) our local hospital gave us this and told us they couldn’t find a seat. Sigh…
Having something like this might have made that whole situation a little bit better for us.
Being proactive and planning ahead of time is the best course of action for dealing with diarrhea and cancer.
You can’t control what’s going to happen in the future however, preplanning for potential catastrophe might be your best shot at having some control of the situation. I don’t know about you, but I always feel a little more in control of everything when I can find ways to make the situation better and easier BEFORE the chaos erupts.
Dealing with diarrhea is stressful in the best circumstances. In a cancer situation, when you already have enough stress to sink a ship you don’t have time to figure this out.
Since the world doesn’t always work the way we need it to… This is every tool that helped us get through diarrhea and cancer as easy as possible…
If we missed anything, hit reply back and let us know!
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