I landed at Stuttgart airport at mid-day. A taxi from the clinic was waiting for me in arrivals. The driver held up a sign with my name on it. On the reverse of the sign was the clinic’s name. I was so relieved he didn’t display that because I didn’t want to shout out the reason for my visit to everyone.
It was a 1.5 hour journey to the clinic from Stuttgart and the final leg was uphill, and through beautiful snow-covered forests. Everything looked like a picture postcard. The temperature outside was about minus 15 Centigrade.
My initial impression of the clinic was very good. A large, chalet-type building with sprawling wings. Sliding glass doors leading to a hotel-type reception.
My bags were taken to my room which was amazingly spacious, about the size of my living room in the UK! Later I found out it wasn’t a standard-size room, somehow I’d got lucky and was given a larger single room. It did not look like a hospital room at all – there were wooden floors, a 42 inch TV. The only sign that it was a hospital room was the bed – it was one of those beds which could be operated electronically to raise or lower a patient. There was a balcony and huge windows with a breathtaking view of the Black Forest. The toiletries in the bathroom were L’Occitane. That’s when I realised that this was a very upmarket hospital.
I’d pre-ordered lunch because I knew I would be arriving late. Lunch was wonderful – a proper 3-course meal, cooked to order, served in a restaurant with white tablecloths, and napkins and silver cutlery. It was the most un-hospital like setting imaginable. There was even a trolley full of drinks and a cake tray.
While I was eating, Grace popped into the restaurant to introduce herself and to tell me that the doctors wanted to see me after lunch for a physical examination. I suddenly lost my appetite. It had been a long day – I had been up since 3am to finish packing and to catch my flight to Germany. Suddenly, the reality of why I was in Germany, and in the clinic, sank into me.
To cut a long story short: I was introduced to four of the doctors – Dr Asir Kopic (the chief consultant and oncologist), his wife Dr Emina Kopic, Dr Greg Schwarz and Dr Miclaus.
During the physical examination, I mentioned to the doctor that I had a small lump at the base of my neck – it had only come up in the past week. The doctor palpated my right armpit and said that there was some swelling there. I said that that couldn’t be right because the tumour was in the left breast.
The next thing I knew, all the doctors were conferring. I realised they were saying that the cancer might have spread.
I have to give the doctors credit. While I was panicking, they were very calm and said that if the cancer had spread, then they would change the treatment. And Dr Kopic picked up the phone and scheduled a Pet scan for me, for the following day – that’s how quickly the doctors responded and how efficiently the private medical system worked.
It was little consolation to me though. That moment was almost as traumatic for me as the initial diagnosis. Time stood still. From having a localised tumour, suddenly I might have metastatic cancer? From having something with a survival rate, I might have a death sentence hanging over me?
The rug had been pulled from under my feet again.