Toledo native, Joe “The Plumber” Wurzelbacher, was recently diagnosed with Stage 3 Pancreatic cancer. Joe is a Military Veteran and is receiving treatment at the Ann Arbor VA Hospital as well as the University of Michigan Hospital. Joe’s wife, Katie, explains: “Joe had been having stomach issues for about 3 months, which eventually became painful. On December 26th, he'd had enough of the pain and we went to the VA emergency room in Ann Arbor. They ran tests and performed scans which showed a mass in the head of his pancreas. The mass was restricting one of his biliary ducts, so they classified it as Stage 3 cancer. They also found that his SMV had a large blood clot. His current treatment plan is 6 months of Folfirinox chemotherapy and surgery to remove half of his pancreas and reconstruct the vein with the clot.”
Katie continues, “The treatment has been a little tough so far. He deals with fatigue and weakness daily, which makes it hard for him to go to work. The oncologist has made adjustments to his chemo which has provided a little relief of the constant nausea he had after his first two treatments. Since all his issues and treatment began, he's lost 70 pounds.”
Joe and Katie married in 2011 and have 3 young children together: Samantha Jo, Henry, and Sarah Jo. Joe also has an adult son, Joey, from a previous marriage. Joe works as a plumber in Toledo and Katie is a stay-home mother. Joe picked plumbing as his AFSC during his time in the Air Force and has always enjoyed plumbing. Joe was instantly propelled into the world of politics after a surprise encounter, in front of his house, with Barack Obama during a campaign visit to Toledo in October of 2008. Joe spent many years traveling across America giving speeches on hard work and cutting taxes. It was during one of those speaking events that he met Katie. Katie remembers, “I was working for a non-profit in Milwaukee, and Joe was flying into town to be a speaker at one of our events. I was his designated chauffeur for the weekend, so I got to pick him up from the airport. Outside of the event, we pretty much hung out and talked all weekend. I moved to Toledo a month later!”
After leaving the political field, Joe happily went back to plumbing. He truly enjoys working and loves solving all kinds of plumbing problems. Joe has always had a deep respect for his parents and family. Katie describes their current situation, “One of the reasons I knew he was a great guy was because he treated his mother so well! It had always been part of his plan to care for his parents when the time came. His Dad had a brain aneurysm, accompanied by experimental brain surgery, when he was in his 30's. The doctor gave him 10-15 years to live, but he's now going on 30+! Sadly, we lost his mother to lung cancer 2 1/2 years ago. We had been looking for a house that would fit everyone (including his mom) for a few years but she passed before we could make that happen. We finally found a great property with 3 bedrooms and a large unfinished basement, which we thought would make a great living area for his dad. We moved into the home in July of ‘22 and once we got settled, began finishing the basement ourselves. Unfortunately, since Joe's been sick, work on the basement has significantly slowed down. We are thankful to have great friends and family who have mentioned they are ready to come help finish the project when we need it. Despite the basement not being finished, it was important to get Joe’s dad into our home because he requires daily help. So, we have made the best of the situation and will bunk all three of our kids together to give grandpa the 3rd bedroom until our basement can be finished.”
This is an amazingly generous family! Not only do they help their family members in need, but they also donate time and resources to their children’s school. For example, last year Joe was instrumental in raising funds for the school's capital campaign and Katie volunteered as a soccer coach. Joe and Katie are blessed to receive support, donations, advice, and encouragement from the Pants Off Racing Charity in Toledo, which supports families with pancreatic cancer.
As a community of friends, we have set up this Medical Campaign to support Joe and Katie during these months when Joe is not able to work. We are hoping to raise funds for monthly expenses and are asking for the incredible blessing of helping secure funds and volunteer skill workers to help finish their basement for Joe’s dad. From Joe, Katie and all their family and friends, “Thank you so much!”