Esther the Wonder Pig diagnosed with cancer
Masses in celebrity pig's mammary glands detected by new large-animal CT scanner
A fundraiser that raked in more than half a million dollars to bring a large-animal CT scanner to Canada has turned out to be a lifesaver for Esther the Wonder Pig.
The international celebrity hog — the subject of a children's book and a social media phenomenon — has cancer, according to Steve Jenkins, one of her two "dads."
"It was devastating for sure. The word itself is terrifying," he explained. "As soon as somebody says cancer, your heart sinks."
Esther lives in Campbelllville, Ont., with owners Jenkins and Derek Walter, who also own the Happily Ever Esther Farm Sanctuary. They got her as a piglet in 2012 and were told she would grow to about 70 pounds. She nows weighs 650 pounds.
The difficult diagnosis followed months of waiting and wondering after Esther stopped suddenly during one of her walks. Jenkins said her snout started to turn purple and she all but collapsed. Her owners thought it was a heart attack.
Esther was rushed to the Ontario Veterinary College to check out what was going on, but the beloved pet was too big to fit in a CT scanner.
They started searching around for other options, but soon discovered there weren't any scanners in Canada big enough to fit an animal as large as Esther.
Jenkins said he and Walter, Esther's other "dad," were told her issues were probably related to muscles and bones in her back end. They started to give the pig medication, but wanted to know more.
$650K for scanner
Unwilling to give up, the pair turned to the pig's legion of online fans and launched a fundraiser.
Within four months they topped their goal of $650,000, raising an extra $120,000, which Jenkins said will be used by other animal charities and rescue organizations.
The massive scanner is the biggest in Canada, according to Jenkins.
It was set up at the Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph, Ont., and used for a special scan last week. What veterinarians found was not the muscular issues they expected. Instead, they uncovered an ulcer caused by the medication and four tumours in Esther's mammary glands.
"Esther was actually diagnosed with breast cancer," explained Jenkins. "Not what we were expecting, and definitely not what we were hoping to hear."
What a beautiful day, my hair is pretty awesome today too. <a href="https://t.co/EmacHrOdKl">pic.twitter.com/EmacHrOdKl</a>—@EstherThePig
But, he added, the diagnosis has proved to be a bit of a "blessing in disguise."
The cancer was caught early enough that it should be treatable with surgery, expected to take place sometime in the next week.
Rhinos, giraffes, maybe even people
That painful diagnosis is also proving to be a rallying point for cancer survivors, who Jenkins said have started sharing their stories with Esther's more than one million Facebook fans.
"We're seeing people with her name and picture on T-shirts," he said. "It's been really incredible to see how many people have rallied behind a pig."
The other payoff is that for the first time, veterinarians here have a scanner big enough for all kinds of animals, and maybe even people who don't fit in traditional CT scanners.
A spokesperson for the University of Guelph described Esther's scan as a "one-off" until a permanent facility for it can be built. But once it's up and running, Jenkins said it's sure to become a game-changer for animal care in Canada.
"You can actually get a full horse through this machine," said Jenkins.
"Then of course you have animals from the zoo, a rhino, camels, a giraffe. There are all kinds of stuff that can be treated with this machine and show them things they were never able to see before."