Support Care Cancer. 2022 Jun 3. doi: 10.1007/s00520-022-07173-5. Online ahead of print.
Autologous stem cell transplantation (ASCT) is standard of care in biologically fit, newly diagnosed multiple myeloma (MM) patients, offering better therapeutic outcomes and improved quality of life (QoL). However, with the UK’s 1st national lockdown on 23/03/2020, several guidelines recommended deferring ASCT due to risks of infection, with resource limitations forcing some units to suspend ASCT entirely. Such changes to patients’ treatment plans inevitably altered their lived experience during these uncertain times with expected impact on QoL. We conducted a qualitative study using semi-structured interviews to gain insight into MM patients’ understanding of their disease, initial therapy and ASCT, and their response to therapy changes. A clinical snapshot of how COVID-19 affected the MM ASCT service in a single UK institution is also provided, including changes to chemotherapy treatment plans, timing, and prioritisation of ASCT. Framework analysis identified 6 overarching themes: (1) beliefs about ASCT, (2) perceptions of information provided about MM and ASCT, (3) high levels of fear and anxiety due to COVID-19, (4) feelings about ASCT disruption or delay due to COVID-19, (5) perceptions of care, and (6) importance of social support. Example subthemes were beliefs that ASCT would provide a long-remission/best chance of normality including freedom from chemotherapy and associated side-effects, disappointment, and devastation at COVID-related treatment delays (despite high anxiety about infection) and exceptionally high levels of trust in the transplant team. Such insights will help us adjust our service and counselling approaches to be more in tune with patients’ priorities and expectations.