updated 12/03/2012 AT 4:00 PM ET
•originally published 12/03/2012 AT 4:30 PM ET
For her ninth birthday, Peanut the orangutan was treated to something special: a cake layered with juice-soaked monkey chow, fat-free yogurt and a hearty helping of fruit and baby carrots.
Sound unappetizing? Odd as it may seem to the human palette, the delicacy marked an important milestone for Peanut, one of six orangutans, alongside her twin Pumpkin, who lives at Miami’s Jungle Island.
Her birthday coincided with the completion of three rounds of chemotherapy treatment.
“The spark is back,” caregiver Linda Jacobs tells PEOPLE. “This year, we’re so grateful. Without the chemo, she might not be here right now. We just have a lot to celebrate.”
Peanut, who was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin lymphoma in June, received her last treatment in October. At this time, testing is not available to determine that Peanut’s cancer has been completely eradicated, according to staff veterinarian Dr. Jason Chatfield, who collaborated with medical professionals from the University of Miami to help the orangutan.
“She has more good days than bad days,” says Chatfield, who calls her a survivor. But he remembers a time when “she really wasn’t herself. It was hard to look at her.”
‘A Very Special Birthday’
A week before Peanut and her twin sister’s birthday, a crowd of 10 or so gathers around the orangutans’s enclosures, where Jacobs is serving up popsicles to some of the zoo’s most popular inhabitants. But coos of wonder become whimpers of sympathy when she tells the story of the orangutan reaching out for her frozen treat just a little more slowly, less eagerly than the others.
“This is a very special birthday because Peanut has just been through a fight for her life,” Jacobs tells the visitors. “This was a birthday we weren’t sure she was going to see.”
“Peanut is definitely family,” adds Jacobs, so it came down to “probably fear more than anything. I wanted to be able to take it away from her and give it to me.”
But fear has turned to faith.
“We just hope she has a good life,” Chatfield says. “And we do what we can to enrich that life.”