A “joyful” and “remarkable” breast cancer journey

June 12, 2024 Swedish Cancer Team

[3 MIN READ] 

In this article: 

  • A cancer patient at Swedish uses words like “joyful” and “remarkable” to describe her cancer journey. Marney Ann Hull shares her story and why she’d “go through it all again.”
  • This month, Marney celebrates her 10th anniversary of beating breast cancer. She credits humor, family and her cancer care team at Swedish for her successful outcome.
  • Swedish offers comprehensive care in a healing environment that addresses all the ways cancer affects a person’s health — physically, emotionally and mentally.
     

Words like “joyful” or “remarkable” are not typically used to describe a year that includes a cancer diagnosis, chemotherapy, radiation, double mastectomy and caring for your dying mother. But for Marney Ann Hull, those are the first words that come to mind when she talks about her cancer journey. 

“I’d go through it all again. It changed me in a good way. It made me appreciate things. It was remarkable,” she says of her experience.

Marney, a Seattle resident, was diagnosed with breast cancer in May 2014. At the time, her mother, Mary Anne, was battling chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The two women joined forces, moved in together and took turns taking care of each other until Mary Anne passed away the following year.

Getting the diagnosis

Marney was diagnosed with invasive lobular carcinoma (ILC) in her left breast and ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS) in her right breast.

ILC is the second most common form of breast cancer in the United States, representing up to 15% of all invasive breast cancers, according to the National Institutes of Health. It is a slow-growing form of cancer that can be difficult to detect on a mammogram. If left untreated, ILC can spread to the lymph nodes or into the bloodstream, causing the cancer to metastasize to other areas of the body.

DCIS is a noninvasive form of breast cancer that affects cells in the milk ducts of the breasts. When the condition is diagnosed and treated in its early stages, people with DCIS typically have good outcomes.

For Marney, treatment included three rounds of chemotherapy and nearly seven weeks of radiation treatments. “It was pretty grueling. But it was also effective,” she says. “I’m going to be 10 years cancer-free this month.”

Finding the silver lining 

Although breast cancer was not something she relished, Marney says her cancer experience came with many precious moments that made the time unique. 

“I’m one of the lucky ones,” she says. “I was at Swedish and got such excellent care. I’m telling you, there wasn’t one cranky person in all of my treatments. It was phenomenal for me.

Caring for her mother prevented Marney from focusing on her own health challenges and created the opportunity to spend Mary Anne’s final months together. The relationship she formed with her Swedish Cancer Institute caregivers, including Henry Kaplan, M.D., Daniel Landis, M.D., PhD, other physicians on her care team and “literally every oncology nurse at City of Hope,” also contributed to her successful outcome.

“Having the cancer kept me from just crawling into a hole to hide. I was on a mission. I had to be well for my mom. I think it was mind over matter. We didn’t commiserate together. We just had a good time and tried to distract ourselves,” says Marney.

“I knew my mom was going to pass at some point, but I didn’t know what was going to happen to me. I think there was power in the comfort of knowing I had such good care and such a kind man at the helm,” she adds.

In the best hands possible

When Marney learned she had cancer, she knew she needed the best care available. “I jokingly said, ‘I don’t suppose I can have Henry Kaplan.’ And my surgeon said, “Oh, he’s right downstairs. We’ll give him a call.’ Well, I almost passed out,” Marney says with a laugh.

“I met with Dr. Kaplan, and I tell you, for me, it was love at first sight. He’s funny, he’s charming and his sense of humor reminded me of my dad,” says Marney. “I tell this to people and they think I’m nuts, but I looked forward to every one of those oncology appointments — including the treatments — because I got to meet with him. I knew I was in the best hands possible and so did my mom.”

The comfort that knowledge brought was invaluable, says Marney. “It was a miracle of miracles that my mother could be reassured that I would be okay. She exited peacefully a week before my final radiation treatment, knowing I had Dr. Kaplan and my friends and that I would be fine. For my mother to leave peacefully was such a gift,” she explains.

Marney paid that gift forward by making Swedish a beneficiary of her will, earmarking the donation to support Dr. Kaplan’s research. She says her gift is a way to show her gratitude. “You know, it was hard going through it. But I did really well because there was humor. It was a remarkable experience,” she explains.  

For more than 40 years, Dr. Kaplan provided advanced care to his patients, bringing hope and healing to people throughout the Puget Sound region. Although Dr. Kaplan no longer offers clinical care, he remains deeply committed to improving the health of our community and beyond. He leads a multidisciplinary team at the Kaplan Cancer Research Fund focused on cancer treatment, detection and prevention.

Promises kept

One of Marney’s concerns was the impact her diagnosis would have on her mother’s care. “I told Dr. Kaplan that I couldn’t predecease my mother. And he answered, ‘It’s not going to happen on my watch.’ And he kept his promise,” she says.

That positive attitude had a tremendous impact on the outcome, according to Marney.

“I didn’t worry. I knew I had great care. Yeah, it was uncomfortable and I was somewhat nauseous. But you know what, my mom and I could have had the worst year. And we had a great year,” says Marney. “Instead of being her caretaker, I got to be her daughter. And she got to be my mom. Yes, she died. And it was heartbreaking. But I think she got out of herself, and I got out of myself. We focused on each other. It was remarkable. It was joyful. It really was so unique.”

Learn more and find a physician or advanced practice clinician (APC)

Swedish offers comprehensive breast cancer services tailored to your individual health needs. The multidisciplinary team at the Swedish Cancer Institute offers inclusive care that provides advanced treatment and compassionate support to meet your needs during a challenging time.

Whether you require an in-person visit or want to consult a doctor virtually, you have options. Contact Swedish Primary Care to schedule an appointment with a primary care provider. You can also connect virtually with your provider to review your symptoms, provide instruction and follow up as needed. And with Swedish ExpressCare Virtual you can receive treatment in minutes for common conditions such as colds, flu, urinary tract infections and more. You can use our provider directory to find a specialist or primary care physician near you.

Information for patients and visitors 

Related resources

After mastectomy, patients find a healing, helping hand at Swedish Plastics and Aesthetics

Mastectomy surgeries offer patients single-procedure reconstruction and reduced loss of sensation

Cierra Sisters: Breaking the cycle of breast cancer health disparities

Providence Swedish experts in the media 

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.

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About the Author

The Swedish Cancer Team is committed to bringing you the most up-to-date insights about treatments, prevention, care and support available. We know cancer diagnoses strain you both mentally and physically, and we hope to provide a small piece of hope to you or your loved ones who are fighting the cancer battle with useful and clinically-backed advice.

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