Ana Maretic has beaten cancer once.
The Animal Care Clinic vet technician was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2017, and after she went through chemotherapy her scans came up clean. The Croatian immigrant has dreams of being a veterinarian in the United States — she has her vet license in Croatia. After working as a vet tech for eight years she received her U.S. license and took an internship earlier this year in Arizona to further her career.
In October, she received bad news: She had cancer in her liver.
“She was in Arizona when she found the cancer had come back,” said her wife, Tracy Joralemon. “Once she had a liver biopsy, we found out it was Stage 4 metastatic breast cancer” that had spread.
Maretic remained in Arizona, trying to complete her internship, but the cancer progressed so rapidly that she had to undergo an intensive round of chemotherapy in early November and return home to Jackson to recuperate. When she was first diagnosed she had similar treatments, Joralemon said, and the side effects weren’t too bad.
The reaction this time has been severe. She didn’t feel up to an interview, so Joralemon spoke on her behalf.
“Honestly, that chemo we did definitely kicked her butt,” Joralemon said. “She has suffered all the worst side effects.”
That experience — mouth sores, loss of appetite, lethargy — convinced Maretic that she didn’t want to undergo a full round of chemotherapy again, even though her doctors told her that the treatment would prolong her life. She started researching other cancer treatments and found a treatment center in Arizona that practices functional medicine, which uses low-dose chemo along with a host of other methods like acupuncture and nutrition to attack the cancer.
According to a National Institutes of Health case study, functional medicine can lower the side effects of chemotherapy by using intravenous injections of vitamin C and improving nutrition. That helped the patients in the study take fewer drugs to mitigate side effects and feel better while undergoing treatment.
Such findings convinced Maretic to choose An Oasis of Healing, a functional medicine clinic in Mesa, Arizona. The clinic has generally good reviews and offers a full spate of treatment options, but there’s one problem: A six- to 10-week course costs about $100,000, and health insurance doesn’t cover it.
That’s where Brooke Rice comes in.
“I was talking to Tracy one day after Ana’s cancer came back and became metastatic,” Rice said. “She said, ‘We’ve been looking into functional medicine, and it’s too expensive.’
“I thought to myself that someone’s money shouldn’t get in the way of their health.”
Rice has known Joralemon since she was a child. Her family owns Merry Piglets, where Joralemon has worked for years. Maretic also worked there for a while when she moved to Jackson. It’s the spot where she met her wife.
As is becoming more and more common, Rice set up a GoFundMe page for Maretic to raise money to cover the functional medicine clinic. Search “Ana Maretic” on GoFundMe to find the campaign. Its goal is $100,000, enough to cover the entire treatment, and as of Monday afternoon it had raised more than $55,000.
Joralemon said An Oasis of Healing encourages families to have the entire amount on hand before entering the program. But Maretic wanted to start the treatment this week, so they were going to use money raised so far to pay the deposit and then pay weekly for the treatment as more money rolls in.
Though the campaign still has a long way to go, Maretic and Joralemon have been buoyed by the support they have received. Rice isn’t the only one who has helped raise money. Pearl Street Bagels and Jackson Animal Hospital both had days when 10% of everything they made went towards Maretic, and Barker-Ewing Whitewater and Jackson Hole Whitewater matched the funds.
“The community reaction has been tremendous,” Joralemon said. “Everybody is so supportive. We’re so amazed by this community.”
This story has been updated to show that Maretic works for Animal Care Clinic. — Ed.