The emotional impact of COVID-19 on Australian cancer patients, their caregivers, and oncology health professionals over time: A longitudinal qualitative study


Background: Cross-sectional research has highlighted the emotional impacts of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) in cancer communities. The aim of this study was to extend findings and to provide a longitudinal perspective of emotional effects of COVID-19 on a range of participants, including patients with cancer, their family members, and oncology health professionals (HPs) in Australia.

Methods: This mixed-methods, longitudinal study incorporated semistructured interviews and psychological well-being survey data collected at three time points between June 2020 and October 2021.

Results: Seventy-seven participants volunteered at time point 1 (T1; 32 patients, 16 caregivers, 29 HPs), 52 at timepoint 2 (23 patients, 10 caregivers, 19 HPs), and 43 at timepoint 3 (19 patients, 8 caregivers, 16 HPs). Overall, participants were psychologically well; however, elevated depressive symptoms were detected in HPs by timepoint 3. Qualitative results highlighted the emotional toll of COVID-19 for all participant groups over time. Three shared themes emerged: (1) balancing fear and safety, (2) uncertainty in an everchanging situation, and (3) fatigue due to lack of support and sense of isolation. An additional theme unique to HPs was also identified: (4) a sense of dread for what is to come in an already exhausted workforce.

Conclusion: Despite Australia’s relatively low COVID-19 case numbers, an emotional toll on the cancer community was apparent. Longitudinal results indicate consistency of themes over time with the burden for HPs adding a theme by the third interview. Participants were challenged to balance needs of personal safety against cancer priorities in an environment of uncertainty and isolation. Over time, a sense of fatigue emerged, and for HPs, increased workloads left many feeling overwhelmed and unsupported with a sense of dread around future outcomes.


cancer, COVID-19, health service change, oncology, qualitative

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