Rebecca Bunch is a guinea pig. A male guinea pig.
Don’t be too surprised. It’s not easy to determine the gender of newborn guinea pigs, and when Rebecca was named, everyone thought he was a she. By the time the mistake was discovered, the name had already stuck.
And that’s not all that sets Rebecca apart. She is a rare albino guinea pig.
With all of these distinctive characteristics, it’s easy to see how the Bunch family — David, Stacy and their two kids — would grow attached to Rebecca. Their companion animals include the cats, Bob and Lola, and the dogs, Samson and Niko. Everyone gets along just fine, too. It’s the definition of one big, happy family.
It’s also a family that has faced more than its share of significant challenges.
Earlier this year, their son Austin was treated successfully for lymphoma. That was the most serious challenge, but it was just the beginning.
Last October, Samson, a 4-month-old yellow Labrador retriever, fell seriously ill after coming inside from the backyard. He was in abdominal distress, and was having trouble breathing. When a trip to his primary care veterinarian and exploratory surgery looking for bowel obstructions failed to identify the problem, he was referred to the NC State Veterinary Hospital for emergency care for an obstructed airway. The much-loved puppy survived and returned home, but the expenses associated with his care were another blow to the family’s finances.
Just a month later, while clipping Rebecca’s nails the Bunches discovered an open wound on the guinea pig’s abdomen. At first the family suspected an injury, but another trip to their veterinarian revealed that Rebecca had a mammary tumor that had ruptured. In addition to the mass, a scan revealed that a nearby lymph node was enlarged and there was some inflammation of the liver, raising concerns over possible cancer.
With another potentially major medical expense, the family faced a dilemma. “These animals have been given life,” Stacy Bunch says, “and we have the responsibility to care for them.” But the financial burden seemed overwhelming. “We had exhausted our resources,” she says.
That’s when resident clinician Kyra Knutson told the Bunches about a source of help and hope.
The Petco Foundation and Blue Buffalo have created cancer treatment funds at leading veterinary hospitals like NC State. The treatment funds help owners like the Bunch family defray the cost of treating companion animal cancers. These generous investments help pet parents focus on providing the best possible care for their pets rather than the cost of care.
“It made it a lot easier on us,” Bunch says. She smiles and adds, “It saved my marriage.”
The Bunches were able to proceed with the surgery to remove the tumor from Rebecca’s abdomen. And there was more good news after that. Further testing of the tumor found that it was benign after all, and there was no sign of cancer in the nearby lymph gland or liver. Rebecca had a clean bill of health.
“This has been a rough year,” Stacy Bunch says, “but NC State has been great. We’re thankful to live so close to a place like this.”
~Steve Volstad/ NC State Veterinary Medicine