Cancer Survivor Uses Second Chance at Life to Give Others the Same | By: Steven Knapp

Cancer Survivor Uses Second Chance at Life to Give Others the Same 

By Steven Knapp

David Caldarella

Photo: David Caldarella, Co-Founder & Executive Director of David’s Dream and Believe Cancer Foundation.

In 2010, David Caldarella was living in Jupiter, Florida when he noticed he had trouble swallowing and a lump on his neck. Having planned to visit his parents and sister in New Jersey for Easter, he decided to see his trusted physician as well. Little did he know when he left Jupiter his life was taking off to another planet.

After two appointments with Dr. Engle in which David had a tumorous growth removed as well as a biopsy of the lump on his neck, he would return to the Manahawkin, New Jersey office. Sitting on a patient bed with his parents in two chairs across from the bearer of bad news, the three were not ready for these three words. “You have cancer!” Dr. Engle said. Characteristically, the first thing David thought of was the lives of others rather than his own. “You think more about them more than yourself” Caldarella said referring to his parents. “It hits you like a ton of bricks” he said. “I vividly remember seeing my mom tear up.”

David Caldarella was diagnosed with stage IV Squamous Cell Carcinoma that reached the lymph nodes on the right side of his neck and went down his throat. Even after being told his odds of living were slim David would fight back. And win.

On November 11th, 2010 David officially became a stage IV cancer survivor.

With selflessness second to none, he couldn’t say enough about his friends, family, and the Thomas Jefferson University Hospital staff who supported him through treatment. Especially his surgeon Dr. David Cognetti who he still has an appointment with every year at a Villanova basketball game along with David’s nephew.

After twelve rounds against the heavily favored opponent, this underdog won’t be remembered as much for what he did in the ring as well as for what he continues to do today in the corner of other fighters. David decided to use his second chance at life to make a difference in others. This is where “David’s Dream and Believe Cancer Foundation” began. The phrase “dream and believe” comes from David’s blog that he kept throughout his treatment to update friends and family. At the end of each post he signed off “Dream and Believe” because he had to “have a dream” he would beat the disease and “believe it would happen.” Upon foundation, the organizations goal was to help “1-2 families a year” with financial assistance. To this day David and his team have helped over 550 families and they continue to extend their support far beyond monetary contribution.

Alive and well today, the north jersey native works from the foundations new office in Manahawkin, New Jersey. Just a short drive over the LBI Bridge from where he currently resides in Ship Bottom. The office, much like the simply dressed scruffy bearded man who works in it both scream a quiet word. Humble. Within the plain white walls thrifty items are spared, the plain white chairs were donated along with the desk, which is stacked with grant applications that stare back at David like a bad painting. Satisfied the furniture did not take away a penny from the foundation, he wishes they had the funds to answer every application immediately. More often than not, it’s the midnight phone call that means more than the financial support we offer” Danielle Corso said, who currently serves as the foundations secretary. Corso first offered her help to the foundation while working with David at Jetty when he mentioned “a cancer foundation he was involved with.” “At the time I was not aware that the organization was his own, or that he was a cancer survivor himself – which speaks volumes about who David is at the core of his being.” Corso said. Patients are constantly sent in David’s direction. The majority of whom come through hospitals and nurse navigation. Others come from word of mouth referrals which David describes as “the best” referrals. Dawn, the mother of Elena who was struck with cancer at just 18 months old would testify to that, describing David as “a beacon of hope.” With a “massive” snow storm impending, Dawn did not know how she would be able to get Elena to her chemotherapy treatments in Philadelphia. Knowing driving through the storm or skipping chemo could both have dire consequences, the problem solver did what he does best. Within in an hour of hearing about Dawn and Elena’s perplexing situation, David had arranged for the two to be put in a hotel room directly across the street from the hospital in which Elena received treatment while also renting movies and getting them ice cream. “We want to take away all the stresses of everyday” David said. Treasurer and longtime friend of Caldarella’s, Tim Hall, describes seeing the foundation grow to what is has and continue to become a “blessing.” “We did not anticipate the level to which (DDBCF) could provide a vehicle for generous and caring people to give of their time, talents and treasures – people who want to ensure that strangers receive an injection of hope when they need it most” Hall said. Hall is one of five board members including David, a staff made up entirely of volunteers that David could not be more thankful for.

Not only does David receive help from his directors and volunteers but also the many generous sponsors. Corso helped to forge a partnership with Informed Mortgage in Manahawkin where they donated $25 for every loan they closed out, which added up to $18,000 at the end of 2015! That partnership continues today. “That’s what sustains a small grassroots foundation like us” Caldarella said. The foundation has continued to increase donations, last year the Dream and Believe Foundation brought in $51,000 more than it had the previous year, while also offering patient grants exactly $51,000 more than the previous year. Seeing such a significant increase in donations and making sure every penny of that increase went directly back to the patients without “wasting a single dollar” is something he is proud of. “That’s what you wanna see” David said.

While fundraising is the basis of the foundation, keeping patient’s spirits high is an equally important part of their mission. In order to do so, David usually “falls back on his own story.” “Here I am” he tells people. “Just keep your head down and make your way through it.” While he says theirs “no magic answer” of what to tell people, Caldarella has seemingly made miracles happen like magic in the past through what most would see as minuscule gestures. One day while making a call to a cancer patient in the hospital, David could hear commotion in the background. After twice asking if he should call later, the man said he could talk because he was simply “with his family.” The two spoke for over an hour, hung up and went on with their days. It was not till months later that the two spoke in person at a fundraiser. David was surprised to learn he was not being thanked for his medical bill assistance. “The day we spoke on the phone was the day I was ready to give up” the man said. “But you’re phone call gave me the strength to keep fighting.” Thanks to David’s random phone call that man is alive, cancer free, and still with his family today.

David paused, and then smirked. “That’s what it’s all about” the life saver said.

Unfortunately, not all stories have a happy ending. David says one of the downfalls of the job is that he never imagined that he would “attend as many funerals” as he does. It becomes especially hard for him with how close he gets to the patients and families. “It’s a deadly disease” he says. It makes him wonder “how come I’m here.” But the reason the caregiver is still here is clear. This past November David became five years cancer free, a mark he described as “pretty monumental.” As sentimental as these anniversaries are for him, his life’s work has become dedicated to helping others receive the “the best call ever” referring to being told you are cancer free. “It’s the best thing for all of us, it’s what we work for.” David said.

While the number of people contributing to David’s Dream and Believe Cancer Foundation is constantly growing, the number of people effected by cancer that need their support is far greater. More information on the foundation, where to get involved, and how to donate is on their website Every contribution as large as $18,000 and as small as the gesture of a phone call is equally appreciated to a man as thankful as David Caldarella. And never forget to –

Dream and Believe!

3rd Annual LBI Summer Soiree

Sea Shell
3rd Annual Summer Soiree
3rd Annual LBI Summer Soiree


When: Friday August 13, 2021, 7pm to midnight.

Where: Sea Shell Resort & Beach Club, 10 S. Atlantic, Beach Haven, NJ

Tickets: Click HERE!
Includes: hors d’oeuvres, themed dinner menu, 3-Hour Top Shelf Open Bar and DJ Entertainment.

Single: $275
Pair: $500

The LBI Summer Soiree is our upscale summer cocktail party at the stunning Sea Shell Resort & Beach Club featuring scrumptious hors d’oeuvres, a themed dinner menu, 3-hour top-shelf open bar and DJ LAX from Prime Event DJS to keep you moving all night long on the dance floor.

Our 2021 LBI Summer Soiree was just recently confirmed so we are not having sponsorships or an auction this year but we will be celebrating our long-standing friendship and partnership with the Team from JETTY as we recognize them with our 2021 DDBCF Beacon of Hope Award.

The Jetty Rock Foundation is the non-profit arm of the Jetty brand. This charitable organization was formed in June of 2013 as a direct result of Jetty’s massive Sandy Relief efforts. The approved 501(C)3 Charitable Organization allows the Jetty brand to continue to be a vehicle for fundraising by using its design, screen printing, and event prowess while providing a formidable channel to get direct aid to those in need. Jetty is a Certified B Corp with CMO Cory Higgins recently being appointed an advisory board member to the Surf Industry Manufacturers Association.

The partnership between David’s Dream & Believe Cancer Foundation and JETTY kicked off at the 2011 Coquina Jam. Jeremy DeFilippis, CEO from Jetty and longtime friend of David Caldarella, was one of the first Board members for DDBCF.

“I’ve known Jeremy for 25+ years now and am so thankful for his support during my cancer battle more than he will ever know. JETTY has played an integral role in supporting DDBCF over the past 10+ years. I will never forget Coquina 2011 and the positive impact it had on DDBCF. I am so grateful for their continued support and partnership and it is an honor to present JETTY as the recipient of our 4th Beacon of Hope Award at this year’s Summer Soiree.” -David Caldarella

Please join us for a night of fun on the beach and get your TICKETS today!

13th Annual Coquina Jam

2021 Coquina Jam

2021 Coquina JamWhat: 13th Annual Coquina Jam – Female Surf Contest

Title Sponsors: Jefferson Health, Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center, Drs. David and Melissa Cognetti and the Department of Otolaryngology – Head & Neck Surgery at Jefferson Health

When:  July 25, 2021 *No wave date August 1, 2021

Time:  8AM – 5PM

Where:  68th Street, Brant Beach. NJ 08008. Our vendor village will include food, beer, cultural sponsors, live music and plenty of Jetty apparel!

Why: 100% of the net proceeds will benefit cancer patients through David’s Dream & Believe Cancer Foundation and Jetty Rock Foundation. You can support the surfers by clicking on their fundraising pages HERE!

How:  Through a fun, all-female team-oriented surf contest. When registration is complete, the pool of surfers will be divided by median age and then randomly paired coupling one younger surfer with one more experienced surfer. The teams will compete through a bracket-style tournament.

Email for Sponsorship Opportunities

About David’s Dream & Believe Cancer Foundation

David’s Dream & Believe Cancer Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that raises funds to provide financial assistance, wellness services and hope to New Jersey families affected by a cancer diagnosis.

About the Jetty Rock Foundation

The Jetty Rock Foundation is the nonprofit arm of the Jetty apparel brand. The mission of the JRF is to facilitate clean water and support of those who build their lives around it. As a Certified B Corp, Jetty and the Jetty Rock Foundation are dedicated to oyster recycling, environmental stewardship and education. Join our good vibe tribe!

DDBCF Hires Kristy Koos, COO

David Caldarella and Kristy Koos
David Caldarella and Kristy Koos
David Caldarella and Kristy Koos

On behalf of the Board of Directors for David’s Dream & Believe Cancer Foundation, I am excited and honored to announce the hiring of Kristy Koos as Chief Operations Officer (COO). Kristy’s skills and expertise are an ideal fit for our growing needs. Her humanity and compassion helps us better serve our patients. Patients and their families battling a cancer diagnosis are at the heart of everything we do. The hiring of Kristy ensures that we will be able to answer the increasing demand for support from those families. David Caldarella, Co-Founder & CEO

I am beyond thrilled to accept the position of COO. This compassionate team of leaders has a long history of serving patients and families affected by a cancer diagnosis. I look forward to working hand in hand with our partners and the community so we can build upon and expand the lasting impact of the organization. David and I share the same vision that patients and their families have and will always come first at David’s Dream & Believe Cancer Foundation and it is an honor to be a part of this mission. Kristy Koos, COO

Photo: Michael John Murphy

I’m an LBI Girl Fundraiser

I'm an LBI Girl

I'm an LBI Girl

We are loving the new “I’m an LBI girl” beach totes! Show your LBI pride & support our mission as #ABeaconOfHope – all of the profits from sales through Monday, July 5 will benefit David’s Dream & Believe Cancer Foundation. Please visit @ImAnLBIGirl, then click the link in their profile for the @Etsy store link to purchase.

Thank you in advance for considering the addition of @ImAnLBIGirl gear to your summer swag.

Photo: @ImAnLBIGirl

Two Thousand Patients


In 2010, a small group of dedicated and compassionate friends joined together to create a vehicle for giving to pay forward the same kindness, generosity of spirit and love that I received during my own battle with stage IV head and neck cancer. David’s Dream & Believe Cancer Foundation was born and set out to provide support to 1-2 patients per year.

Yesterday, we reached yet another bittersweet milestone. We provided support to our Two Thousandth Patient with direct financial aid of nearly $1.9 Million Dollars! The numbers are staggering but we recognize there is an amazing patient with a story behind every number.

Landmark milestones such as reaching our TWO Thousand Patient are a time to celebrate, but also a time to renew our commitment to the David’s Dream & Believe mission of HOPE for patients and their families affected by this deadly disease. That is where you come in. Despite having reached a nearly $1.9 million dollar milestone of giving, we are seeing a continued avalanche of patient requests and your ongoing participation is as crucial now as it was when our journey began 10 years ago. We ask you to consider helping David’s Dream & Believe Cancer Foundation as a financial donor, dedicated sponsor, or Mission of Hope Giving Partner in 2021.

Please contact Co-Founder: David Caldarella or Vice Chair of Community Affairs: Danielle Corso to learn more:

David Caldarella







99WNRR Radiothon
Friday March 19th 12pm EST to Sunday March 21st 12am EST

Thank you for joining us for our 8th Annual Radiothon benefiting FACES4AUTISM, The Children’s Air Ambulance and David’s Dream & Believe Cancer Foundation.

It all begins on March 19th at 12pm EST. This is a great way to support three amazing organizations who are in need of your help today. 100% of your donations will go directly to the organizations listed and 99WNRR will MATCH your contributions.

Just click the donation button HERE to make your generous pledge to 99WNRR RADIOTHON and post your request or dedication in their chat room. No amount is too small.

$5 gets you 1 song
$10 gets you 3 songs
$25-50 gets you a special commemorative shirt and 5 songs.
$100 gets you two shirts, 10 songs and we will bring you on air to announce them. YOU BECOME THE DJ!

We accept Venmo as well to 99WNRR RADIOTHON. Thank you for joining us for our 8th Annual Radiothon benefiting FACES4AUTISM, The Children’s Air Ambulance and David’s Dream & Believe Cancer Foundation.

It all begins on March 19th at 12pm est. 100% of your donations will go directly to the organizations listed and 99WNRR will MATCH your contributions.

University of Kentucky Partnership

Co-Founder Timothy Hall made introductions between the University of Kentucky’s College of Social Work and David’s Dream & Believe Cancer Foundation. We are so excited to announce we have created a new partnership with U of K’s College of Social Work and we will have a graduate student interning for DDBCF this semester. Our patients are the epicenter of everything we do at DDBCF. We are constantly evolving as a Foundation while researching and creating new and improved ways to engage with our patients and their families battling a cancer diagnosis.

If you are a patient or family member and hear via email or phone from Travis – please feel free to let him know how you are doing and if there is anything David’s Dream & Believe Cancer Foundation can do for you…



2021 Mission of Hope Giving Campaign

Planned Giving

Planned Giving2021 Mission of Hope Giving Campaign

Thank you for your continued support of David’s Dream & Believe Cancer Foundation (DDBCF). Cancer is Hard. A cancer diagnosis during a global pandemic is exponentially harder! Zero DDBCF in-person events for the entirety of 2020. However, we still managed to provide $267,740.36 in direct financial aid and wellness services to 256 families battling a cancer diagnosis this year. Mission of Hope Giving was our only mainstay fundraising program in 2020 and it proved to be a lifesaver! At the start of the pandemic, our community partners at Informed Mortgage led the way once again by raising their charitable giving from $25 per closed loan to $100 per closed loan out of their Manahawkin office. Several members of the DDBCF team, individuals and businesses also participated this year.

As we prepare to start a New Year in 2021, we are excited to spotlight our Mission of Hope (MOH) Giving Campaign.  This campaign enables individuals and/or businesses to Pay It Forward throughout the year by setting up a weekly, monthly or quarterly donation to DDBCF. No amount is too small. Your Mission of Hope Giving commitment to DDBCF will make the difference of a lifetime for a family battling cancer today!

How can you get involved? Please contact our CEO, David Caldarella or Vice Chair of Community Affairs, Danielle Corso to ensure that we recognize you and/or your business in all of our DDBCF marketing pieces this year.

Please complete the attached form below and click HERE to start your own weekly, monthly or quarterly 2021 Mission of Hope Giving donation.

You can also mail a donation to: 364 North Main Street, Suite 10D, Manahawkin, NJ 08050, made payable to DDBCF with Mission of Hope in the (memo) on the check.


 2021 DDBCF Mission of Hope Giving Campaign Form