On October 3, 2015, at the Sixth Annual Conference of the Academy of Oncology Nurse & Patient Navigators (AONN+), in Atlanta, GA, 5-year cancer survivor David Caldarella, of Long Beach Island, NJ, and founder of David’s DREAM & BELIEVE Cancer Foundation, was “surprised and elated” when he was named the winner of the inaugural Hero of Hope™ Patient Award. The profiles of all 4 finalists were featured in the August issue of CONQUER, and readers were asked to pick the winning profile. We thank everyone who helped to select the winner among the outstanding nominees.
“I think just being nominated for this award adds another layer of credibility and national attention to our organization,” Mr. Caldarella commented. “Then to win the award is even more impactful. The other 3 nominees were just as deserving, so it’s a shared happiness. Any one of us could have won.”
STAGE IV HEAD & NECK CANCER
The day Mr. Caldarella was diagnosed with stage IV head and neck cancer in April 2010 was also the day he began thinking of creating a foundation to help other patients with cancer.
“I was sitting in the imaging lab waiting for the PET scan when I thought, ‘Ok, this isn’t good,’” recalls Mr. Caldarella. “I figured one of two things would happen—If I didn’t survive, I wanted to create something that my niece and nephew would be proud of. On the other hand, I knew I was going to fight like hell, and wanted to start something that was bigger than myself and pay it forward. I had no idea what I was in for.”
Throughout his 8 months of cancer treatment, which included multiple surgeries, chemotherapy, radiation, and considerable time in the hospital because of severe side effects, Mr. Caldarella worked to make his dream a reality.
“I felt like I was at war every minute of every day,” he says. “My only relief was thinking about paying it forward. When I wasn’t too sick or sleeping, I was brainstorming and working on the foundation. My parents would walk by my room at 2 or 3 am, and I’d be working, asking myself, ‘What would the foundation’s name be? How would it be funded? Who would receive funds? How will it be structured?’”
PAYING IT FORWARD: DAVID’S DREAM & BELIEVE FOUNDATION
“Creating the foundation helped me to survive,” he says. “It took my mind off being a patient with cancer 24/7 and helped me get to the next minute.”
In the 4.5 years since its inception, David’s DREAM & BELIEVE Cancer Foundation has been able to provide more than $400,000 in financial assistance to help more than 450 families in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, New York, and Connecticut—a far cry from the 2 or 3 families he initially hoped to help each year. In fact, the foundation grew so quickly, with patient requests rising from 20 in 2011 to 50 in 2012 and 100 in 2013, that Mr. Caldarella finally had to quit working his part-time job and became a full-time employee with the foundation in 2014.
“We receive a lot of our requests through nurse navigators and social workers,” explains Mr. Caldarella. “They found out about the funding we have available, and reach out to me on behalf of their patients.”
Mr. Caldarella runs David’s DREAM & BELIEVE Cancer Foundation out of the living room of his Ship Bottom, New Jersey, apartment and all 6 of the foundation’s Board of Directors are volunteers.
“I can’t say enough about how supportive they’ve all been of me and the foundation,” beams Mr. Caldarella. “We certainly wouldn’t be where we are without them. The president and cofounder is my dear friend Tim Hall, who has been there every step of the way. He flew from Kentucky 6 different times during my treatment to see me, take me to appointments, and be by my side throughout my journey.”
David’s DREAM & BELIEVE Cancer Foundation hosts 4 major fundraising events each year and includes a separate youth service group called Generation Dream. For more information about the foundation, visit www.davidsdreamandbelieve.org.