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You might recognize the name Joe “the Plumber” Wurzelbacher from the 2008 presidential election. Before then, he was just your average American, a conservative, blue collar, Air Force veteran working for a plumbing company outside of Toledo, Ohio.
He was tagged with the new moniker by the McCain-Palin campaign after he questioned then-Democratic nominee Barack Obama about his tax plan that would increase taxes on small business owners. When Obama approached his front yard for a campaign event, Joe told him that he was about to buy a plumbing company “that makes 250 to 280 thousand a year.”
“Your new tax plan’s going to tax me more, isn’t it?” he inquired.
Obama affirmed Joe’s question, adding, “…right now everybody’s so pinched that business is bad for everybody and I think when you spread the wealth around, it’s good for everybody.”
John McCain, Obama’s 2008 opponent, capitalized on this incident in the final presidential debate to prove that Obama favored socialist policies that would take money from hard-working Americans and redistribute it.
McCain referred to “Joe the Plumber” several times in the debate, and Joe quickly became the face of conservative politics for a time. He spent years traveling the country, giving speeches about the value of hard work and why taxes should be cut. Joe later ran for Congress in the 9th congressional district in Ohio, and he even wrote a book called Joe the Plumber: Fighting for the American Dream.
Today, Joe the Plumber is struggling with a grim diagnosis: Stage 3 pancreatic cancer. He is married with three young children and one adult son. His wife, Katie, is a stay-at-home mother who has been supporting him as goes through treatment.
For three months, Joe suffered with excruciating stomach pains before doctors determined that he had a mass in his pancreas that was blocking one of his biliary ducts. His superior mesenteric vein, which receives blood from other veins in the digestive tract, was found to have a large blood clot, as well.
Currently, he is receiving cancer treatment at Ann Arbor VA Hospital and the University of Michigan Hospital, but he is contemplating whether or not he should find an alternative route of care after an MRI scan recently found cancer cells on his liver. The current treatment plan has been six months of chemotherapy, surgery to remove half of his pancreas, and a vein reconstruction to remove the clot.
According to Katie, however, he’s not sure that he wants to continue on with chemotherapy “if it’s not going to work,” given that there are now new cells on his liver.
With Joe’s illness comes difficulty for him and his family. Katie reports that the fatigue and weakness he deals with from treatment makes it nearly impossible for him to go to work.
As Joe is the provider of the home, this understandably puts a financial strain on the family. But his family’s struggles don’t end with finances and illness. Because of Joe and Katie’s generosity, they have made extensive plans to care for Joe’s parents and move them into their home. Their plan was to find a home that was big enough to fit the seven of them, but Joe’s mother passed away from lung cancer before they were able to make it possible.
The property they’ve found since then, however, has three bedrooms and a large unfinished basement. Before Joe was diagnosed with cancer, he and Katie began finishing the basement as a fourth bedroom to move his dad into, as his health is also declining and he requires daily assistance.
With Joe’s health problems, too, the project has been stalled, but thankfully, a team of volunteers from the Wurzelbachers’ community have decided to take on the project themselves.
“We’re researching permits/regulations right now and scoping/drafting our plan,” the team said. “We did a quick site walk with Joe and have begun to narrow down the path forward. It’s a big project, but many hands may make for light work once we get started! There is a lot of labor and manual digging involved, but it can be done!”
Thankfully, one of the Wurzelbachers’ needs will be met, thanks to the community around them, but they have more giants to face along the way. Their friends have put together a Medical Campaign to raise funds to cover the family’s monthly expenses while Joe is out of work.
They are now asking the public for help. If you feel compelled to donate to their cause, you can submit a financial contribution here.
Please pray for the Wurzelbacher family as they walk through the coming months. Pray for Joe’s health and that the Lord would heal and sustain him. Pray for Katie, for mental and emotional endurance as she cares for her sick husband and three small children. Pray for the community as it works to make a place for Joe’s dad in the home. Pray for their finances, that the Lord would provide for them as He sees fit.
Finally, pray that Joe and all those around will trust God fully, no matter how hard the trials, and continue to show His goodness and His plan of salvation to others, resting always on the promise of 2 Corinthians 9:8:
“And God is able to bless you abundantly, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.”
Ready to dive deeper into the intersection of faith and policy? Head over to our Theology of Politics series page where we’ve published several long-form pieces that will help Christians navigate where their faith should direct them on political issues.