It was the first of many intimate moments shared during the days and nights of the treatment as Jacobs and another caretaker, Jenny Snyder, tended to Peanut.
“More than anything, we wanted Peanut to know everything was going to be OK,’’ Jacobs said. “This is scary for her. She needs those of us who are familiar, who love her, to be close.’’
Since Peanut’s diagnosis, a team of doctors and specialists have consulted on her care in an unusual cross-species collaboration. It was the first time Rosenblatt had treated a non-human. And it was the first time the Jungle Island group had used human treatment for an animal. Yet there wasn’t much difference. Genetically, orangutans and humans share at least 96 percent of the same genetic matter.
The team spent hours in meeting rooms and labs, even consulting Harvard veterinarians to figure out a course of treatment to give Peanut the best odds. Peanut’s cancer is the most common type among humans. About 60 to 70 percent of people with this variation survive, depending on the aggressiveness of the illness.
There was a lot to consider: Could Peanut withstand repeated anesthesia or intubation? How would chemotherapy drugs affect her system? Would her size — four feet tall , about 150 to 160 pounds — be a factor? Would she exhibit typical side effects like humans: loss of hair and appetite, vomiting, nausea? They also had to consider how to ward off infection.
And, the cost for such a high level of care. The privately-owned attraction declined to put a price on the treatment noting that “many involved have waived their fees or offered their services at cost.”
Spokeswoman Ashley Serrate added that some members of Peanut’s team donated their time to care for her after each treatment . “The most important thing for Jungle Island and for those working with Peanut is that she gets the utmost in care to help her battle this disease,” she said.
Treatments began in August. Every three weeks or so, Peanut was sedated and transported by van to Knowles Animal Clinic in Miami. Lying on her side under a pile of covers with a gas mask over her nose and mouth, she snored above the buzz of the breathing monitors as the nurse measured out the drugs — four administered intravenously and a fifth, a steroid, added to her food. The drugs were placed in a vein of Peanut’s shaved inside forearm. For much of the treatment, Jacobs was right there, lovingly stroking Peanut’s back and forehead, patting the tufts of fuzzy auburn hair.
She received a combination of chemotherapy, chemoimmunotherapy and antibodies to kill the cancer cells and build the immune system. Considered the standard human chemotherapy regimen for this type of cancer, Peanut’s dosages are less potent.
As news spread of her condition, the public responded with get-well cards and stuffed animals. Aliza Guerreiro, 8, of Miami, even knitted Peanut a pink scarf and sent it to her. And she has been adopted as mascot for a group of human lymphoma survivors.
The treatments resulted in few side effects. In between treatments, she was given antibiotics, initially a tricky endeavor because Peanut often detected the pills, plucking them out of her food and politely handing them back to her caretakers. Then they began successfully sneaking the medication into her fruit smoothies.