Background: This study aims to explore how patients with metastatic gastrointestinal stromal tumour (GIST) experience the adverse effects of treatment, as expressed by the individuals themselves.
Methods: A qualitative, phenomenological and hermeneutic design was applied. Twenty patients with metastatic GIST participated in the study. In-depth and semi-structured interviews were conducted and then analysed by means of an inductive thematic analysis.
Results: The majority of participants reported experiencing a changed life after being diagnosed with metastatic GIST and commencing systemic medical treatment. More than half of them described partially debilitating self-reported side effects and complaints that had a detrimental impact on their lives. The life-prolonging tyrosine kinase inhibitor treatment prompted the participants to adapt to 'a new normal'. Several participants also emphasised having an ambivalent relationship with the pill, although most looked upon it as 'a friend' because it kept them alive. Paradoxically, while the participants struggled with the side effects of treatment as well as the consequences of living with a chronic cancer, half of them considered themselves to be healthy and, thus, to not actually be cancer patients.
Conclusions: We observed a gap between the biomedical perspective on disease that health professionals typically adopt and the individual experiences of patients living with metastatic GIST. For those patients who are living in limbo between having metastatic cancer and offered an effective treatment, a holistic view of health on the part of their healthcare providers seems crucial. A vital goal should hence be to improve communication between healthcare professionals and GIST patients so as to secure an individualised follow-up with guidance on coping with, and adapting to, their new normal.Trial registration The study was approved by the data protection officer of the Oslo University Hospital (Approval Number 2016/15358).
Keywords: Gastrointestinal stromal tumour (GIST); Metastatic cancer; Qualitative research; Side effects.