Giving Thanks for Life Saving Treatment, Marla Doss and Family Award a Challenge Grant

marla doss

Over the span of nearly 10 years, Marla Doss has overcome the odds: beating a cervical cancer diagnosis — twice.

The youngest of six children, Doss moved to Florida from Michigan in 1985 after accepting a job offer. She was eager to enjoy year-round outdoor activities such as swimming, cycling and walking along the beaches in her new home of Bradenton, Fla. Today, she lives with her husband and daughter on Tidy Island, a small Gulf Coast community about a four-hour drive southwest of Jacksonville.

In 2014, Doss experienced her first brush with a terrifying diagnosis: cervical cancer. It wasn’t until six years later during a routine annual exam that she was once again numb with emotion.

“I was frozen in time when the doctor said, ‘I’m sorry, but the cancer has returned,’” Doss said.

She recalled many sleepless nights filled with thoughts about her future, questioning, ‘Why me?’

“I was so scared as everything happened so quickly,” she said. “This process changed my family’s entire life. And it was especially difficult because my diagnosis was during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, so my family could not be with me during treatment.”

Once she was able to process the diagnosis, Doss began sharing the unfortunate news with friends and family. At the time, a co-worker was receiving treatment for his own diagnosis at the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute. Doss connected with him, and he connected her with William Mendenhall, M.D., FACR, a radiation oncologist at the Institute and professor at UF College of Medicine. Mendenhall wasted no time, contacting Doss that same morning.

“His encouraging, kind and informative demeanor was so reassuring. I felt confident that the Institute would provide me with the most successful treatment plan,” Doss said.

After two weeks completing the necessary paperwork to confirm Doss would be a good candidate for treatment, she received a phone call she would “never forget.”

“A representative from the Institute said, ‘Could you be in Jacksonville next week to review your treatment plan and begin testing?’” With a heart full of gratitude and prayers lifted, Doss recalls tears filling her eyes as she began her journey with UF Health Proton Therapy Institute.

For the next four months, Doss and her husband rented an apartment in Jacksonville so she could undergo the rigorous treatment plan that included months of daily proton treatment, chemotherapy and an eventual brachytherapy, an internal radiation procedure where doctors place tiny radioactive pellets inside or next to the tumor.

Doss took each of her treatments one day at a time, remaining vigilant and counting down the days. Four months later, she celebrated her successful treatment by ringing Aud’s Chime in the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute lobby, along with her family and care team. She notes that the care team is what sets the Institute apart from other institutions — the personal, innermost care and attention she experienced and witnessed others receive as well.

“The work and treatment that is done each and every day is important to me because it saves lives,” she said. “I watched for days, weeks and months, observing people of all ages, nationalities and circumstances receiving lifesaving treatments. I believe the Institute is a positive place where staff reassure you consistently, answer your questions and treat each patient with dignity. You are not alone. I firmly believe this creates an atmosphere for rehabilitation, hope and wellness.”

marla doss
marla doss

Doss developed close relationships with the staff at the Institute, ones she holds close to her heart and she would have never known or nurtured if she did not have her cancer diagnosis. Doss acknowledges the positivity, professionalism and kindness of all the staff, including her team of doctors, nurses, radiation therapists, infusion specialists, radiologists and more.

She recalls how they encouraged her and explained all of her procedures and treatments so that she never felt alone on her journey to wellness, something even more meaningful since her family was unable to join her during this time due to the pandemic.

Because of her experience and desire for others to have the same opportunities, Doss and her husband have made several meaningful gifts to support the work at the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute, through the James M. Doss Sr. Charitable Foundation.

“Equipment and technology at the Institute need constant upgrades and enhancement, and the medical staff are dedicated to learning the latest treatment and procedures,” she said. “I can’t think of a more critical area at UF Health to give toward.”

Doss’s heart remains full of gratitude for her good health and the superb care she received. She will “forever be grateful” to every employee who saved her life and kept her spirits high during her most difficult times.

“My family and I wish to thank all of my doctors and care team for providing all of your cancer patients far beyond what your professional obligations require,” she said. “Your dedication and compassion help achieve positive treatment outcomes and instills good health and confidence in every life you touch.”

Join the James M. Doss Sr. Foundation in supporting UF Health Proton Therapy Institute:

Double your impact! The James M. Doss Sr. Foundation has awarded the UF Health Proton Therapy Institute a challenge grant to match every charitable gift to the facility support fund, dollar for dollar, up to $50,000. Gifts received will help support Phase II of the Simulation Suite renovation now in progress.

The UF Health Proton Therapy Institute has a goal to raise $50,000 by March 2024, or until the challenge is met. To make a gift today, visit

“I recognize that our gift to UF Health provides superior, state-of-the-art treatment that not only saves lives, but also improves the quality of every healthy day to come. An investment in UF Health and their mission will save lives today and in the future.” — Marla Doss, UF Health Proton Therapy Institute grateful patient

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