Esther the Wonder Pig is now cancer-free after surgery

16 Sep 2018 | Canada
Esther the Wonder Pig is now cancer-free after surgery

Esther the Wonder Pig —​ the beloved 285-kilogram (630-pound) celebrity in Campbelllville, Ont.​—​ has beaten breast cancer.

"We're super excited that we got the news that we did," said Steve Jenkins, one of the pig's two 'dads.' 

"It's been a roller coaster the last few weeks."

A team at the Ontario Veterinary College in Guelph removed four masses from her mammary glands and two lymph nodes during a three-and-a-half hour operation on Aug. 28, Jenkins said. The largest mass was the size of a tea saucer, he said.

Now around 285 kg (she was previously around 295), Esther is a social media phenomenon with legions of fans. 

Jenkins and Esther's other "dad" Derek Walter co-authored a book about their love for Esther, titled Esther the Wonder Pig. It became a New York Times bestseller. 

Esther recovered quickly, Jenkins said. They were able to take her home the day after surgery. 

"Her wounds are healing really well. Her temperament is great — she's up and going for walks," said Jenkins, who said he's grateful for the incredible team at the Ontario Veterinary College.

"We couldn't ask for any more in terms of how Esther herself is doing."

She's now "laying low" as she gets ready to be spayed, which will lessen the chance of that cancer coming back, Jenkins said. 

Diagnosis in August
Esther's fame led to a fundraising campaign after she became ill. Within four months her friends and supporters raised more than $750,000, enough for a massive CT scanner, the first of its kind in Canada that was big enough to hold a pig of her size. Esther was diagnosed with cancer in early August. 

The scanner will be used by other animal charities and rescue organizations as well. 

Jenkins said there was a lot of consultation after the diagnosis, as vets figured out how to treat their unusual pet.

"Knowing she had breast cancer was one thing, but did they know how to fix it was a whole different concern," he said. 

Jenkins said it's "almost always a learning thing... when something happens with these big pigs."

"It's not very often that someone shows up there and says 'Hey, I've got a 656-pound pig with breast cancer I need you to fix.'"

Esther lives with Jenkins and Walter, who own the Happily Ever Esther Farm Sanctuary. When Jenkins and Walter got Esther as a piglet in 2012, they were told she was a "micro-pig" who would grow to about 32 kg. 

Frustrated by regulations
But Jenkins says the ordeal highlighted some frustrating regulatory issues with non-traditional pets such as Esther.

He said he would have to get a Health Canada waiver to give her certain medications.

Jenkins said they first ran into the issue when trying to access chemotherapy for their late chicken, Anne. Although Esther didn't need chemotherapy, he said they would have needed similar permissions.

However, CFIA said they only get involved when an animal enters the food chain. Before that, medical treatment is the territory of the animal's owners and veterinarians.

"The CFIA would not prevent medications to be administered to any farm animals, including pigs and chickens," the agency said in a statement.

It said a licensed veterinarian "can use human and veterinary drugs on animals as they see fit."

"Diagnosing and treating a disease of a farm animal or pet is between the owner and a private veterinarian. Private veterinarians are regulated provincially by the licensing boards and thus follow their guidelines," the agency said. cbc