Mesothelioma Survivor Focuses on Faith and Helping Others
July 18, 2019
Loretta Wilbur has turned her diagnosis of malignant pleural mesothelioma into a way to help others in need.
She wants to give back.
Wilbur doesn’t just pray for herself each day. She prays for those around her — family, friends, well-wishers and medical staff — giving thanks to the myriad of people who have helped her through this difficult journey.
She rarely waivers.
“I’m praying to God, ‘Take this [diagnosis] and make something good from it.’ If my story can be an inspiration to others, that’s wonderful,” she said. “That’s one of my purposes, giving people hope in whatever way I can.”
Wilbur, 67, is in her second year as a mesothelioma survivor. Her diagnosis in April 2018 was devastating at first, but it strengthened her faith and resolve, and sharpened her perspective on life.
“It’s like a punch in the gut when you first hear it,” she said from her home in the Detroit area. “I was worried how my family would handle this, but it teaches you what’s important in life, and how to appreciate the little things. I’ve always been kind of a control freak, but this has taught me I’m not always in control.”
Crossing the Country for Mesothelioma Treatment
Wilbur was fortunate to find mesothelioma treatment pioneer Dr. David Sugarbaker at the Baylor Lung Institute in Houston.
Sugarbaker started Wilbur’s treatment regimen before he died in August.
Dr. R. Taylor Ripley, Sugarbaker’s hand-picked successor, skillfully performed her aggressive pleurectomy and decortication surgery in October.
Her care today is co-managed by Ripley, along with oncologist Dr. Adil Akhtar and radiologist Dr. Craig Stevens at Beaumont Hospital in Troy, Michigan.
“My care has been absolutely wonderful. We were so saddened for Dr. Sugarbaker’s family, but so thankful for all he did for so many patients with mesothelioma,” she said. “Dr. Ripley has been incredible. I can’t say enough about the great care I have received from everyone.”
Sugarbaker taught her about living life one day at a time. Ripley makes her feel now like she will live a very long time.
Wilbur’s checkup in April showed no sign of tumor recurrence, adding to a mini celebration that coincided with her 45th wedding anniversary.
Her good fortune continued in July with another CT scan that was clear.
Living for Today
Her post-surgery progress has been steady. Her stamina is improving. She is back in the kitchen cooking, in the garden planting flowers, returning to her normal day-to-day activities.
The pace is a little slower than it once was, but the pace is increasing.
“One of the things this journey has taught us is to not put off things. Some of the things we always said we’ll do someday, well, today is someday. We’re going to do those things while we can still enjoy ourselves.”
Wilbur and her husband Jim will be leaving soon for a West Coast trip to California and Oregon to visit family. They will leave this fall on a Mediterranean cruise — their first European trip — with stops in Italy, France, Monaco and Spain.
They plan to see the Vatican Museums and the Sistine Chapel, a reflection of their strong Roman Catholic faith.
“Our faith is a big part of our lives,” she said. “I’ve handed myself over to God saying, ‘I need you to see me and my family through this.’ I wake up every day, telling him how grateful I am for putting all these people who have helped me through this into my life. I thank God for the people praying for us and sending us positive thoughts.”
Family Support Has Been Key
Loretta Wilbur spent almost 17 years working as the marriage coordinator at St. Anastasia Catholic Church in Troy, Michigan, preparing couples to celebrate the sacrament of marriage and their new lives together.
She talked to those couples about the giving of oneself, something that sticks with her today through her battle with mesothelioma.
“I’m feeling good now, and more aware of what people around me are going through, and being available to help them as much as I can,” she said. “I want to help others with this.”
Her family support has been strong from the start, a key role in her success. Her three grown children each has played a role in helping her mentally and physically.
Wilbur’s sister has been there, too. Her elderly parents have remained strong. Husband Jim rarely has left her side, being there for every chemotherapy session, every radiation treatment and each surgery.
“After being married for 45 years, I’ve known her spiritual and mental strength is tremendous,” he said. “She’s always been the cool head, our anchor, and the rock that we leaned on, and held onto, in difficult times. I’m so happy now that God put me here to be her rock, her wall to lean on.”
She has personal goals in mind that go beyond the next CT scan and the upcoming travel plans. She wants to enjoy being an active part of her children’s lives.
She wants to see her grandchildren grow up and thank every person who has said a prayer for her.
“What I’ve learned from this is, if you know someone going through a difficult time, reach out to them, let them know you’re there for them,” she said. “Even little things can make a big difference in helping others.”