Stepha's Story

Ukrainian Immigrant and Cancer Survivor Speaks Universal Language

Patient Stories | Stepha CarlyUkrainian immigrant Stepha Lyuta firmly believes that coming to the U.S. - and finding University Hospitals Seidman Cancer Center - saved her life.

The 83-year-old Parma woman was diagnosed in 2013 with vulvar cancer, a rare form of cancer that accounts for less than 1 percent of all cancers in women. The American Cancer Society estimates that 5,150 cases will be diagnosed in the U.S. this year.

Fortunately, Lyuta lived less than one mile from one of the 16 community-based locations for UH Seidman Cancer Center. She was able to receive her diagnosis and treatment in the comfortable and convenient UH Seidman Cancer Center at University Hospitals Parma Medical Center. When the cancer returned and she required a radical bilateral vulvectomy in October 2014, she went downtown to UH Seidman Cancer Center for surgery with gynecologic oncology surgeon Kristine Zanotti, MD.

Her devoted grandson, Rostislav Lyutyy – her motivation for emigrating from Ukraine – accompanied Lyuta, who speaks no English, to nearly all of her appointments, including two months of radiation and chemotherapy treatments. The staff accommodated her need for a translator versed in medical terminology through a real-time audio and video interpreter service.

Like her children and grandchildren, Lyuta fled Lviv, Ukraine to escape religious persecution, economic stagnation and poor health care, according to her grandson, who came to the U.S. at the age of 5 for surgery to correct a clubfoot.

“If she had gotten cancer over there, there is no way she would have survived,” said Lyutyy, now 25. “She kept it from us for awhile, until the pain was unbearable. At least she was here with us.”

Registered nurse Carly Trainer remembers Lyuta doing a little dance in the hallway to show her spirit was strong. While she couldn’t speak directly with Lyuta, she and other staff offered a steady supply of hugs.

“We met a lot of great people here, not just the staff but other patients,” said her grandson. “Hugs are so important, and they understood she needed the physical contact.”

Aryavarta Kumar, MD, a radiation oncologist at UH Parma Medical Center, was pleased to see that Lyuta’s energy level and appetite have returned.

“She is doing well,” said Dr. Kumar. “She looks really good.”