Update 5 February, 2015: please note that I have been receiving reports from patients that Hallwang Clinic’s services are not meeting expectations and Grace Gawler no longer runs Medi-Tours to Hallwang. Therefore, before you go to Hallwang, please get it in writing that the oncologist and Prof Vogl will be there throughout your stay.
Think of a desert island filled with survivors of a shipwreck. Life is filled with challenges. In the midst of this stress, there is conflict. These survivors have one goal in common: to stay alive.
Just like the desert island survivors, there is one goal in a German cancer clinic: to stay alive. The weeks spent in the clinic are crammed full of treatments in order to beat the cancer. There may be challenges from the side-effects of the treatments.
Under these challenging circumstances, it would take a saint to remain calm and joyful 100% of the time.
In the main, most of the other cancer patients I met at Hallwang were a jolly lot, with the ability to laugh at themselves, and see the funny side of their predicament. You wouldn’t believe the amount of humour at mealtimes.
For some, it was the first time that they’d spent in a group of people on the same cancer journey. What this means is that there is no need to explain yourself, or worry about what people who haven’t got caner think. There is no fear of cancer, only curiosity about treatment protocols. There is no pity, only support and encouragement because everyone is in the same boat.
For me, it was probably the first time I could relax and be myself, and not have to watch what I say.
But the other side of Hallwang, was that people were thrown together, who were living out life-and-death battles. There were inevitable meltdowns. People would lock themselves away in their rooms or find fault with the food or the doctors.
The pace of the treatments took their toll on me. I’m not the best sleeper at times, and it was made worse by the local village rooster who crowed promptly every morning at 4am. Other patients got used to it, I didn’t, and entertained visions of shotguns, chicken soup, roast chicken etc.
[patients in the rooms on the other side of the clinic complained about barking from dachshunds at a nearby dog breeder’s!]
I was wired up and on-the-edge just by being in a semi-hospital environment and having 3 to 6 continuous hours’ of infusions every day and visits by the doctors every day. I think I averaged 4-5 hours of sleep per night, even with sleep medication. In London I would have gone to my amazing acupuncturist, John Tindall, and he would have sorted me out, no problem. Or had a session with my cranial osteopath and I would sleep through the night.
Apart from the treatments, I was also stressed from having to extend my stay from the original 3-weeks, to 4 weeks. This meant having to find an additional Euros10,000, and some very creative juggling with cards and bank accounts. The end of the week was when patients received their weekly bill, and those were very stressful times, even though the bill was presented with the greatest of charm and diplomacy by Melanija and Daniela who worked at reception and in the office.
[I suggest you allow a contingency of 25% above the original quote sent by the Clinic – it will save you many sleepless nights]
In retrospect, I think I was also suffering from adrenal fatigue – most of the patients didn’t have the sleep problems I had.
Hallwang had a much-needed life belt in the form of a psychologist, Carolyn, who was there to offer support and a sympathetic ear to the patients. She defused a lot of the problems before they reached boiling point.
Carolyn is one of the gentlest and big-hearted souls I’ve ever met. Carolyn has a large number of tools in her psycho-oncology toolkit, including Reiki. What I found valuable was that Carolyn holds the space for healing to occur. By this, I mean that Carolyn is able to sit in non-judgement and sympathy, often for long periods of silence, and somehow, in that silent attention, a new thought or revelation arises.
At first I found it hard to trust, and wasn’t used to her approach, and thought: “this is silly, why are we doing this?” But I made some breakthroughs during our sessions, and they helped me get through some of the more challenging aspects of the treatments.
Carolyn was a god-send and even after my stay at Hallwang, has continued to reach out and offer me support. My stay at Hallwang was made more comfortable, because of Carolyn.
And there was Manuela the physiotherapist who did magical shiatsu. Amazingly, I managed to relax during her sessions, and fall asleep for within 30 minutes, something I have never been able to do during a massage session.
To give patients a life away from the clinic, day trips were organised to nearby tourist towns like Tubingen. They even arranged for a patient who was a dog lover to visit the local pet rescue centre. There was a free taxi service once a week to the nearest town, Freudenstadt.
The clinic was next to a national park, and I went for many walks in the beautiful Black Forest, just breathing in the fresh, crisp air. But it was cold, and there are only so many walks you can take when it’s f-f-freezing and the ground is heavy with snow.
Finally, in the last two weeks, I found an outlet for my restless mind and energy – there was a piano in the dining room and I started playing it. My rusty skills came back. I would play the piano at 2am or 4am in the morning or whenever I couldn’t sleep, or even during the daytime, when I couldn’t relax. Finally, a way of coping with stress …
I think if I ever had to do another intensive stay at Hallwang, I would find a good acupuncturist or cranio-sacral therapist in Freudenstadt, the nearest town.
If you relax by watching TV, bring loads of DVDs. You will have plenty of time in the evenings to watch them in the comfort of your room. Downton Abbey was very popular when I was there. Everyone was watching series 3 when I hadn’t even watched series 1 which made for a lot of convoluted explanations – and I found the episode when the cook had a suspected diagnosis of breast cancer unbearable to watch and had to leave the room.
Also bring books on a Kindle. The Clinic does have a small library of books that patients have left behind, mainly in English, and also of DVDs.
Bring your laptop – there is free wi-fi. Bring earplugs if you are a light sleeper.