Barbara's Story - cancer of the ureters and kidneys

Barbara Pytlewski

Unfortunately, cancer runs in Barbara Pytlewski’s family.

Barbara's story

Years ago, she and her brother learned they have Lynch syndrome, a hereditary condition associated with a high risk of developing colon cancer, as well as an increased likelihood of urinary tract, uterine and liver cancers.

Pytlewski had already fought colon and uterine cancer when she was diagnosed with cancer of the ureters and kidneys in the fall of 2008. Her doctors explained that the cancers were treatable, but that Pytlewski’s kidneys would have to be removed – potentially confining her to a difficult and shortened life on dialysis. After hearing her diagnosis, Pytlewski knew exactly what she needed to do. Within weeks, the Utah resident was on a plane to Los Angeles to meet with a team of UCLA Urology experts, led by Dr. Robert B. Smith.

Thirty years earlier, UCLA urologists had treated Pytlewski’s brother when he was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Pytlewski trusted the urologists and staff, knowing they would use the latest methods to treat her condition in an effort to achieve the best possible outcome. “I consider cancer to be intelligent and evil,” she explains. “I would never do anything but give my all to fight it, which is why I knew I had to go to UCLA.”

At Pytlewski’s first UCLA Urology appointment, Dr. Smith explained that the scans showed that both the right and left ureters – the tubes that drain urine from the kidneys to the bladder – were cancerous, and the renal pelvis of each kidney was also affected. Pytlewski wanted to know what could be done to save her kidneys. Dr. Smith suggested a rare surgery, one that had been done only about 50 times. In it, Dr. Smith would remove part of each kidney and the ureters, then use pieces of Pytlewski’s small intestines to replace the ureters so that her kidneys could continue to normally function.

Dr. Robert B. Smith

Pytlewski had the surgery in January of 2009. She spent weeks in the hospital, with the UCLA team watching her closely to see how she would recover. Approximately 10 days after the surgery, her right kidney began to function normally again. The surgery was a success. “I can’t say enough about the care at UCLA,” says Pytlewski. “The doctors, nurses and staff were so caring. It was amazing to me that a world-famous surgeon like Dr. Smith would meet me at UCLA Clark Urology any time of the day or night to help with bladder issues I had in the weeks and months following my surgery. He was right there with me every step of the way.”

But her troubles were not over. Several months after the surgery, Pytlewski was diagnosed with metastatic cancer in the liver, lungs and pelvic area. Pytlewski then began developing a chemotherapy program with Dr. Steven Wong, a UCLA oncologist. The integrated program included chemotherapy to address the metastatic disease, along with nutrition, meditation and exercise to help Pytlewski heal and remain strong for the five months of treatment she would undergo. It’s been more than four years and Pytlewski remains cancer-free. Now living in Idaho, she is adamant about eating well and staying active. Pytlewski engages in water aerobics, bikes 10-15 miles a day when the weather is good, and participates in spin classes during the winter.

“All I wanted was a chance to have a normal lifespan,” Pytlewski says. “Dr. Smith and UCLA Urology gave me that, and more.”