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Wish granted: Dying 20-year-old to see swimming pigs of Exuma

In the year 2020, so much has been out of our control. The global pandemic has influenced how we work, how we play and indeed how we live most aspects of our everyday lives.

So when Jade Shovlin, a care worker in the United Kingdom, was diagnosed with terminal cancer, it seemed like just another injustice. It was another tragedy that was out of our control.

That is, until she told a newspaper about her dream – to swim with the pigs in The Bahamas.

It caught the eye of T.R. Todd, the Canadian author of the award-winning book ‘Pigs of Paradise: The Story of the World Famous Swimming Pigs’. Finally, he thought – here is something we can control.

“When I saw Jade’s story and looked at her family photo, I found it heart-wrenching,” said Todd, who works with Peter Nicholson, a prominent owner and philanthropist at Grand Isle Resort & Spa in Exuma, The Bahamas.

“Here was this beautiful 20-year-old who spent her days caring for others and now she was facing a terminal illness. It was inexplicable, why should she have to suffer like this?” asked Todd. “Whether it is the death of George Floyd, or COVID-19, 2020 has not been the best year on record. Fortunately, in 2020, we are also more interconnected than ever before. So we wanted to reach out and help and make her dream of swimming with the pigs come true. Of course, with COVID-19, it is not business as usual. Prior to travel she will need to meet whatever testing requirements there might be, especially being an at-risk traveler. But once all the precautions are taken, we will welcome her with open arms.”

Nicholson, another Canadian who purchased 31 villas at Grand Isle Resort in 2012, immediately stepped up to offer a free stay at the luxury resort, along with a boat ride up the Exuma Cays to see the world-famous swimming pigs. In addition, an online fundraiser has been launched to help Jade and her family with other expenses. So far, it has raised more than $20,000.

“I honestly couldn’t believe it, it is such a weird situation,” Jade told a local newspaper in the UK, in response to Nicholson’s offer.

“I can’t fly until next year [due to chemotherapy] but I feel like my dream is closer, it is just a shame about having to wait.”

According to her diagnosis, cancer of the esophagus is incurable and she has less than two years to live. The news has left those close to her devastated.

“I feel more for my friends and family, especially my mam and boyfriend,” she said.

“I’ve just been keeping myself busy and trying not to focus on it too much.”

Jade’s story comes just as The Bahamas begins to reopen its borders to commercial airlines and tourists on July 1. Over the last several years, the swimming pigs have grown to become a major draw for tourists from around the world. While the original Pig Beach is located on Big Major Cay in Exuma, the attraction has expanded to include colonies in Abaco, Eleuthera, Grand Bahama and Nassau, along with at least two private islands that service cruise ship passengers.

Popular among celebrities and social media influencers, the swimming pigs are now considered a bucket-list experience for people from the farthest reaches of the globe, like Jade. In April 2017, Jillian Crockett, a seven-year-old girl from Westchester, Maryland, was given the opportunity to take any trip she wanted through the Make-A-Wish Foundation.

She also chose the swimming pigs.

During difficult times, the pigs continue to show us the healing power of holidays with our loved ones, says Todd.

Nicholson, who commissioned the original documentary ‘When Pigs Swim’ in 2013, concurs: “It is incredible to see what the swimming pigs have become not just for Exuma, but the entire Bahamas. We never envisioned they would reach these heights. And now, someone like Jade comes along, reminding us just how special they are, and how special The Bahamas is to so many people. What Jade is going through is a tragedy. But I’m glad we are in a position to step up and help Jade and her family have an amazing experience in the near future.”

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