Date Presented 04/21/2023

Individuals with comorbidities and increased age are more likely to develop severe illness from infection with COVID-19, including cancer. We explore the impact of the pandemic on cancer survivors’ participation through qualitative analysis.

Primary Author and Speaker: Audrey Trebelhorn

Contributing Authors: Allison L'hotta, Allison King, Natalie Haffner, Annamayil Manohar, Taniya Easow Varughese

PURPOSE: Cancer survivors are more likely to develop severe illness from infection with COVID-19 and must abide by stricter precautions to minimize contact with others. The purpose of this study was to analyze the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on daily participation among survivors.

DESIGN: A cross-sectional qualitative design was utilized. Patients with brain, breast, colorectal, and lung cancer participated in a one-time interview.

METHOD: Interviews were conducted via Zoom or telephone and lasted an average of 60 minutes. All interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim. Qualitative thematic description was used to analyze interviews through a team-based coding process. Codes were inductively developed and defined in a codebook, which was pilot-tested and modified based on team discussions. Interviews were coded by two team members and checked for agreement between coders. Coding discrepancies were reconciled by a third team member and through discussion, when necessary. Coded text was analyzed for themes.

RESULTS: Forty cancer survivors completed interviews. We identified a main theme related to occupational limitations due to fear of infection with COVID-19. Three sub-themes emerged: 1) the impact of activity limitations on relationships 2) feelings of anxiety when participating in activities 3) feelings of isolation. Participants reported limitations in daily activities, such as choosing not to participate in social events and visiting family outside and socially distanced. Several reported they were participating more at time of cancer treatment (pre-pandemic) than currently during the pandemic.

CONCLUSION: Cancer survivors report decreases in access to meaningful activities during the COVID-19 pandemic, leading to occupational deprivation and poor mental health outcomes.

IMPACT STATEMENT: Occupational therapists help cancer survivors identify their most meaningful occupations and improve outcomes during the ongoing pandemic.


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