Janice Langford knows how terrifying the word cancer is.

Almost five years ago, the Illesheim pre-K teacher was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and received treatment at a German clinic. Four days after first hearing the C-word from her doctor, Langford had major surgery to remove the tumor.

Since then, she has had three other surgeries and celebrated her fourth year of remission in April.

Langford credits surviving cancer to her German doctor and the American doctors at Illesheim who collaborated with him. She credits surviving the ordeal to her patient liaison, Gudron Williams. Patient liaisons help make appointments, translate and assist with insurance claims as well as explain the contents of records and prescriptions.

“I would not have survived this treatment if not for these people,” Langford said. “Gudron went out of her way to help. She went the extra mile.”

At the start of her chemotherapy, Langford was shocked to discover that each her treatments would cost $6,000, all of which was required up front.

Williams negotiated with Langford’s doctor who agreed to accept a deposit of $3,000 and waited months for her insurance to pay the rest.

Williams accompanied Langford to all of her appointments, gave her a medical phrase book and helped her purchase a wig, several hats and a turban in case Langford’s hair started to fall out due to treatment. (It didn’t.)

Williams’ compassion and availability has earned her the respect of hundreds of patients and two-time recognition as a Cares Award winner.

The Army hospital in Würzburg, which has 20 patient liaisons, presents the award to those who go above and beyond their duty, according to Capt. Erica DiJoseph, executive officer of the Illesheim Health Clinic.

“The patient liaison program is a bridge between American and German health care,” Williams said. “I love [this] job and helping people.”

Kim Brock, another Illesheim teacher, also has come to rely on Williams.

Brock has made three hospital visits in the past four years, two of which were for major surgeries.

“All three times Mrs. Williams was there,” Brock said.

Although her family tried to convince her to come home in the summer for one of her surgeries, Brock had complete faith in the German health care system.

“I had 120 percent trust in the doctor I had here,” Brock said.

Heidelberg patient liaison, Lesley Lehwald-Verron, assures her patients that German health care is just as good or better than American care. While there may be some cultural differences, most German doctors speak English and many have received some of their training in the United States, she said.

Randy Harshman, a military retiree living in Germany, said, ”I think there’s a widely held myth that the German system is an extremely difficult system to deal with. What I’d like to do is encourage people not to be afraid to go on the economy.”

Tina Pauley of Mannheim, who had a tumor removed from her lung earlier this year said, “Once [the doctors] got to know me, they got more confident with their English.”

Her husband, Master Sgt. Scott Pauley, was deployed to Turkey in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom when Tina was admitted into the hospital.

“As soon as I got back, [I]turned in my weapon and came straight up here,” Pauley said. “The patient liaison made it to my wife before I did.

“I could take care of things and just know that everything was going to come together. I appreciate very much having Lesley.

“I thought I understood Tina, too, but… I missed a lot the signs that needed to be explained to Tina,” he said. “Lesley was available to identify with that and say, ‘Scott, she needs this,’ and she also bridged the language barrier and the man’s idea of things.”

Lehwald-Verron recommends patients not be afraid of asking plenty of questions.

Harshman, who suffered a mild stroke recently, agreed.

“I think it is incumbent upon the patient to ask questions if they are concerned about their health care,” Harshman said.

And for all the questions unanswered, the patient liaison is always there to help, said Maj. Timothy Hoiden, chief of managed care at Landstuhl Army Regional Medical Center.

“[Patients] are not out there alone,” Hoiden said. “We’re here to help.”

The patient liaison program is available at all 52 medical treatment facilities in Europe.

To find out more about the patient liaison program, call your local Tricare service office.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now