Earlier this week, I received one of those “out-of-the-blue” RANDOM calls from a dear friend. He wanted to know if I could sing for an upcoming funeral Mass at his local church (if you know me, you are aware that I’m a singer/hobbyist for weddings, funerals, town events, etc.).
Knowing that I work full-time, my friend knew that a Friday morning event would be a long-shot for me to be able to schedule. However, for some RANDOM reason he called anyway….and for some RANDOM reason I was able to free up my schedule and agreed to sing.
The funeral was Friday March 31, 2017. As I raced from my office to the Church, I began pondering questions that all singers might ponder just before a funeral Mass: Who passed away? What were the circumstances? Will this be a typical funeral for an elderly relative, or will this be one of the harder ones that will require me to contend with particularly grueling emotions.
When I pulled my car into the parking lot it was obvious that this would be one of the hard ones – too many cars, too many people…. this was definitely someone special and my instincts told me that it was probably an untimely passing. I proceeded straight to the choir loft, where my friend/organist met me for our 10-minute quick review of the program…that’s just about when my instincts proved to be accurate. I learned that the funeral was indeed being held for a young woman who lost her battle with cancer.
This will sound like it is embellished, but by RANDOM timing, and at nearly the very moment that I was learning who I was singing for, I received a text message from my lifelong friend (and co-founder of DDBCF) David Caldarella. If you know David, you are aware that in one of his roles with our foundation, he is all-too often forced to attend funerals/viewings for so many beautiful souls taken far too early by cancer that become acquaintances, friends and in some cases family for him.
David had no reason to fathom that I might be standing in a church on a RANDOM Friday morning – let alone preparing to sing for a RANDOMLY scheduled funeral Mass. Reading further – David’s message conveyed that he had just attended a viewing for yet another beautiful young woman who lost her life to cancer. It was remarkable to realize that David and I were RANDOMLY sharing a mutual moment of anger and sadness. We continued texting for a few minutes, and very soon realized the incredible coincidence – David and I were talking about the same beautiful person. Yes, the RANDOMLY scheduled funeral Mass was for the same beautiful young woman (Cassandra) that David had been visiting, supporting and became friends with over the past few years – neither of us had any idea.
I believe that the bright shining DDBCF Beacon of Hope is casting a wide and warm light in darkness today, and it motivates me more than ever to continue working to help provide care, assistance and HOPE to those suffering with – and unfortunately sometimes being devastated by cancer.
#WeWill continue shining light in darkness
David’s Dream & Believe Cancer Foundation
We are extremely excited to announce a new service-arm platform for David’s Dream & Believe Cancer Foundation. We at the Foundation understand that body, mind and soul need to work together for the patient diagnosed with cancer. Cancer does not discriminate and will affect your physical, emotional and financial well-being. We want to fulfill the body, mind and soul aspect for our local patients and their families. In conjunction with some incredible local businesses, we have created a service-arm for the Foundation that will answer that call.
A patient diagnosed with cancer may need help with medical bills, rent, utilities, transportation and putting groceries on the table. However, an integrative wellness plan and support services combined with an oncological treatment plan could be equally critical to the patient’s successful outcome and in some cases, be more valuable than the financial assistance.
We have partnered with amazing businesses in the LBI region who are committed to offering integrative wellness plans and support services to local patients diagnosed with cancer and their families. Some of the services provided include: yoga, meditation, acupuncture, massage, counseling, art therapy and childcare to name just a few. DDBCF will work with each patient, nurse navigators from Southern Ocean Medical Center and service providers to determine specific needs. There will be no costs to the patient for a defined, pre-approved period during which DDBCF will be covering the costs. A Beacon of Hope is the mantra for David’s Dream & Believe and we know that these partnerships will serve as a light to our local patients and their families.
A heartfelt thanks to our Director Danielle Corso and her company Volatile Media Management for originally fostering the vision and creating a planned giving partnership between our friends at Equity Prime Mortgage NJ and David’s Dream & Believe Cancer Foundation (DDBCF). Starting back in 2015, our hometown mortgage specialists committed to donate $25.00 to DDBCF for every loan closed by their Manahawkin, NJ office! The result has been a record-setting and monumental donation of $42,375.00 to DDBCF over the past two years! We must thank the staff at Equity Prime Mortgage NJ for their personal investment in the mission of DDBCF to bring HOPE to our patients and their families affected by a cancer diagnosis! Please contact our friends at Equity Prime Mortgage NJ for all your Mortgage needs by calling them today at: (609) 597-0007.
Our first example of planned giving started in 2013 with Paul Samaniego when he created a bi-weekly employee contribution through his company, IBM to DDBCF. This was met in 2014 by a similar monthly donation by another friend of the Foundation, Dan & Sue Vilardi. Marie Antonelli joined their efforts in 2016 and all three have signed up to participate again in 2017. Thank you all.
In 2016, three Directors participated in our planned giving initiative. We are excited and humbled to announce that all nine of our Directors have agreed to participate in our planned giving initiative for 2017. Our Board of Directors serve on a 100% volunteer basis and this financial commitment is yet another example of their selfless dedication to our families battling a cancer diagnosis.
Our planned giving initiative helps sustain the HOPE for our families throughout the year even during tougher months when no events are scheduled. Please contact David Caldarella at: email@example.com to learn more about our planned giving initiative.
HAITI MISSION TRIP 2017 “There’s a Chance that Lives in every Dream”
The following blog represents my own personal thoughts and feelings on a recent mission trip to Haiti. The invitation to accompany Thomas Jefferson University Hospital (TJUH) was the opportunity and experience of a lifetime. I was blessed to join the amazing doctors and nurses from University of Miami and TJUH including my dear friend and lifesaving surgeon, Dr. David M. Cognetti, M.D., FACS, Co-Director, Jefferson Center for Head and Neck Surgery, and Associate Professor, Department of Otolaryngology- Head & Neck Surgery at Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University. I was equally blessed to have my friend of 25+ years and professional photographer Michael John Murphy join the trip. Michael is a kind soul and it was a real personal comfort for me to have him along on this journey. Thankfully, I will lean on Michael’s pictures to better tell the incredible story of this mission trip to Haiti.
We arrived in Haiti on Sunday afternoon and headed straight St. Luke’s Hospital after dumping our gear in the compound so the doctors and nurses could unload supplies and meet with patients for surgery. We started each morning with breakfast in our compound and then attended church service at 7am. We were joined at church by locals as well as groups from University of Scranton, Canada, Italy and France. Unfortunately, daily mass also included funeral services for far too many babies and children.
This stark reality served as a constant reminder and backdrop for our trip. However, chapel always provided a peaceful and spiritual start to our day. The entire crew was present for mass each morning and brought a sense of unity to the group.
I followed the funeral procession from chapel on our first day to the final resting spot for the deceased. I joined Dr. David Cognetti’s cousin Dr. Peter Cognetti and his kids, Anne and Will for the rest of the day. We visited St. Damien’s Pediatric Hospital where one of the rooms is designated for abandoned children. These babies and children are left to fend for themselves and are often brought to St. Damien’s for needed care, love and eventually placed with an orphanage. This room is most likely the first place these beautiful children feel human touch. The image above shows Anne Cognetti and me visiting with the children.
St. Damien’s complex also houses a warehouse, chicken coops, tilapia breeding ponds, gardens, bakery and various other opportunities for locals to support themselves. After the pediatric hospital visit, we finished the first day by helping Founder Fr. Rick Frechette organize the construction supplies section of the warehouse. The photo above shows the completed task.
Michael and I joined a group heading to Cite’ Soleil for our second day. It took us approximately one hour from chapel at St. Damien’s through the “streets” of Port Au’ Prince” to get to Cite’ Soleil where we were met by local gang leaders who would later serve as translators between the Haitian people and our doctors. We set up a pop-up clinic on this day where somewhere between 50-100 patients were seen by our doctors.
The devastation and destruction that we witnessed in this area will remain with us for the rest of our lives. The people are welcoming of any support and hope could be seen in the eyes of the children. This was evident when our friend Chris shared some clothing and a couple new soccer balls with them. The picture above was taken by Michael as we arrived at St. Mary’s where we set up our clinic for the day. The small bridge was a gateway over mountains of waste and trash that here at home we would only see in an open landfill. However, this is where people lived in aluminum huts if they were lucky with animals rummaging through this canal of waste that led to the Atlantic Ocean. The cleared parcel of dirt along their “beach” visible to the right of the canal of waste in the picture above is where kids migrate after school to play soccer. The plight of the human condition throughout this country is unimaginable and Cite’ Soleil shakes you to your very core!
Our third full day was spent with the University of Miami and Thomas Jefferson University Hospital doctors, nurses and team members. Michael continued to photograph. I spent the day operating the blood supply circulation pump and supporting the medical team however possible. The photo above shows one of the times that we were greeted by a blackout during surgery. The team remained focused and many IPhone flashlights were turned on as you can see in the right corner of the picture above. Our medical team worked side by side with skilled Haitian surgeons like Dr. Patrick Jean Gilles, nurses and medical team members.
This image captured by Michael in surgery is one of my favorites of the entire trip and doesn’t need much of an explanation. I am helping Dr. Cognetti with his surgical gown as he prepares to operate on a Haitian patient. This was an equally gratifying and extremely emotional day for me on so many levels. I was the patient almost 7 years ago, on the surgical table and now to be serving others side by side with some of the surgical team that saved my life including Dr. Cognetti and nurse Carol from TJUH was truly a moment in my life that I will cherish forever. It was extremely humbling to witness the skill, care and compassion delivered by the medical team and as a former patient I can appreciate the quality of their lifesaving care.
Our compound had an outdoor eating/meeting area and flats that would house up to 6 people. Michael and I shared a room in our flat with Dr. Cognetti and first-year Jefferson University medical student Matthew along with a pediatric doctor and his wife from Italy. There was one bathroom and we were fortunate to have cold running water out of the shower if at all. Each bed came equipped with a mosquito net, and although I was glad to be protected from nasty disease carrying mosquito’s, my net decided to fall on me from the ceiling on the first night. I’m not sure if I was more scared or I scared Michael more with my screams thinking I was being attacked by my mosquito net in the middle of the night. We were so grateful for our accommodations because nearby there was so much despair and devastation.
Michael captured this picture in a newly-built chapel inside the compound at St. Luke’s Hospital prior to leaving for Port Au Prince Airport for our return trip home. I started to feel sick our last night in Haiti so I think this picture the next morning captures me physically and emotionally drained reflecting deeply on the mission experience. I was thinking about the Haitian people, loved ones at home and those special angels that watch over us now. I felt God’s presence in this moment as much as I did during my battle with cancer. I also know a wave of emotion came over me at some point in this quiet moment regarding the totality of this mission trip. Tears started to flow and my heart was empty and full all at the same time.
This is my favorite picture of our amazing “Dream Team” including new friend “cookie the dog” who joined us for the picture. Michael captured thousands of incredible images and I look forward to sharing his photo journal link very soon.
It was truly an honor to have been invited by the Jefferson team to join this Haiti mission trip and to share a common goal in serving as “A Beacon of Hope” that shines beyond our borders and out into the global community!
Two new and highly successful DDBCF fundraising events were established in 2016:
a) The Inaugural Frank A. Cosimano Memorial Golf Classic presented by: Bergen Risk Managers and
b) Shave the Date presented by: Swing Graphics
The incredibly generous team from Equity Prime Mortgage’s planned giving initiative set an all-time DDBCF record for Giving with an astounding $24,375.00 donated in the year 2016!
DDBCF welcomed 2 returning members back to the Board of Directors; Co-Founder Carmen Malatino and Kelly Powers; while three new Board Members Jason Cosimano, Steve Crisalli and former Director of Patient Advocacy Bill Raney were invited to serve as well. Office space for the Foundation was secured at 364 North Main Street, Suite 10D in Manahawkin, NJ.
Director of Patient Advocacy; Lauren M. Raney (7/28/1977-12/16/2016) was appointed by the Board of Directors as our Inaugural Trustee Emeritus.
2011 – 2016: 763 Families battling a cancer diagnosis have received $621,813.06 in Financial Grants!
All of us at David’s Dream & Believe Cancer Foundation want to thank our patients and their families for inspiring us each and every day. It was an extremely difficult end to 2016 with the passing of so many loved ones and friends of DDBCF including: Mallory, Anthony, Virginia, Melissa, Michael, Phyllis, Layard, Alice, Patricia and Lauren. Our thoughts, prayers and love remain with all of these families. In the midst of her own battle with cancer, Lauren Raney proudly served as an original member of our Directors of Patient Advocacy Board in hopes that she could offer support to other patients battling this deadly disease. What Lauren may not have realized before her passing on December 16th is that she not only offered our current patients support and hope but lifted the spirits of any and every person that was blessed to have crossed paths with her.. On December 20th 2016, the DDBCF Board of Directors unanimously voted to appoint Lauren M. Raney as our first ever Trustee Emeritus. Lauren will be forever honored for her service as a Director of Patient Advocacy while all of us trust that she will eternally watch over and guide us on this journey.
Thank you to our Executive Partners at Equity Prime Mortgage. Equity’s planned giving initiative has set a high standard for charitable giving thanks to the efforts of Stephen, Christopher, Michael, Equity Staff and all their customers.
Thank you to the parents and kids from our youth group, Generation Dream. This motivated, talented and compassionate group of kids are determined to make a positive impact in the lives of our patients and their families.
Thank you to our community partners, Dawn and Pete from Swing Graphics and Ryan Johnson from Ryan Johnson Photography for their help with photo, images and multiple revisions to content.
A special thank you to our Board of Directors (Steve Crisalli, Dani Corso, Kristin Panzone, Bill Raney, Kelly Powers, Jason Cosimano, Tim Hall & Carmen Malatino) who serve the mission of the Foundation on a 100% volunteer basis!
Please take a minute to look back on 2016 with us in the attached summary of accomplishments. Please know that if you attended one of our events, donated an auction item, sponsored an event, volunteered or made an individual donation – YOU are responsible for providing HOPE to a family diagnosed with cancer that desperately needs our help. THANK YOU! Our Mantra for 2017 is: #WeWill
On November 15, 2016, I attended a presentation at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital (TJUH), where my surgeon Dr. David Cognetti and his colleagues Dr. Joseph Curry and Dr. Adam Luginbuhl spoke about several topics including the Complex Head and Neck Care and Education (CHANCE) mission trip to Haiti. Jefferson has one of the top ranked Ear, Nose and Throat (ENT) programs in the United States, and they believe this care should not be limited to those who can travel to Philadelphia. Through the CHANCE mission trip to Haiti, they’re able to expand their impact and give individuals suffering from a complex thyroid disease or head injury a better chance of surviving. Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere and were still digging out from the earthquake of 2010 that killed at least 200,000 when Hurricane Matthew hit in October 2016 killing an additional 600+. Still today, nearly a million people are looking for food and drinkable water every day.
Jefferson team members have partnered with skilled Haitian doctors for the past two years to provide 150 Haitians with care, hope and a chance at Hospital Lumiere in Bonne Finne and St. Luke’s Hospital in Port-Au-Prince. The Jefferson team members also connect with Haitian people locally, attending mass and seeing how their spirits are lifted through songs and prayer. Dr. David M. Cognetti, M.D., FACS, Co-Director, Jefferson Center for Head and Neck Surgery, and Associate Professor, Department of Otolaryngology- Head & Neck Surgery at Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University; offered the following comments in a recent interview about the upcoming trip. “Jefferson’s CHANCE foundation is not only about bringing medical care to Haiti, but also about educating the local medical professionals on how to continue the care after our visits. When Jefferson was looking for a volunteer to provide a patient’s perspective, David Caldarella immediately came to mind. Not only has he experienced head and neck surgery firsthand, but, as a lifelong resident of Long Beach Island, he has also witnessed the devastating effects a Hurricane can have on a community.”
I’m blessed to be a dear friend and former patient of Dr. Cognetti’s and now a volunteer at TJUH. The invitation to accompany Jefferson’s amazing team on a 4-day mission trip to Haiti leaving Sunday January 22nd, is an opportunity of a lifetime. I will serve in a support role for the team and interact as a patient advocate to the families of patients through local interpreters. Overall Patient Support is of utmost importance to all of us at David’s Dream & Believe Cancer Foundation and being able to watch and learn directly from the care providers at Jefferson and staff in Haiti will afford me the opportunity to bring those valuable techniques home to current and future patients of DDBCF. My friend of 25 years and respected photographer Michael John Murphy has also been invited to join us on the mission to visually capture many impactful moments. It is truly an honor to have been invited by the Jefferson team to join this Haiti mission trip and to share a common goal in serving as “A Beacon of Hope” that shines beyond our borders and out into the global community!
2005 is a year I will never forget. August 4th was one of the best days of my life, the day my beautiful daughter Lily was born! November 21st, was one of the worst, the day I was diagnosed with mesothelioma cancer. Specifically, I was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma, a cancer almost always caused by asbestos exposure that affects the lining of the lungs. It was just a few days before Thanksgiving and the start of the holiday season, and more importantly Lily was only 3 ½ months old. I was scared of what was to come and so I leaned on my family and friends, especially my wonderful husband Cam and my parents to help me through this time.
To completely remove the tumor and rid my body of the cancer I went through multiple treatments including an experimental treatment called extrapleural pneumonectomy. My left lung and surrounding tissue was removed and I underwent a ‘chemotherapy wash’ before finishing the surgery. I also went through weeks of chemotherapy and radiation, which was particularly draining for me.
There are so many lists of what not to get for someone in the hospital or going through treatment. So, what DO you get? I have always supported gifting for the person and not the illness. My loved ones know I am a sentimental person, so one friend donated to the Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation in my name. Others knew how expensive the costs were of traveling from Minnesota to Boston and back for treatments and check-ups, so they paid two months of my car payments to lighten the load. It is selfless gifts like these that will make a lasting impact.
However, you don’t have to be extravagant to do something meaningful for someone facing a tough diagnosis. Here are some examples of gifts I have either received or heard of over the years that I think would mean more than a basket of food and goodies.
Subscription to a music streaming service like Spotify or Apple Music
Tickets to a local sporting event, concert, museum, or movie theater
Donate to a research foundation in their name
Brighten up the room with real flowers (if they can have them) or tissue paper flowers (if they can’t). I once brought a friend in the hospital a giant artificial gerbera daisy, he loved it!
A nice journal and pen set. Sometimes writing is a good way to get your feelings out, and is nice to be able to look back on when treatment is over to see how far you’ve come!
Write a letter from the heart
Giving is not about the cost or the money, it is about helping someone in need and giving a part of your day to make theirs a little better. So especially during this holiday season, if you know someone going through treatment, spend some time with them, use an above example, or simply ask “what can I do for you?” I guarantee it will mean so much to them, and you will feel great too!
On February 2nd, I will officially be an 11-year survivor as it was on that day 11 years ago my left lung was removed. I count my blessings everyday – because most mesothelioma patients only live 18 months past diagnosis – and try to live every day to the fullest, be open and honest, give Lily a childhood she will always remember, and love my family unconditionally.
On Friday December 2nd, David’s Dream & Believe Cancer Foundation reached $200,000.00 in grant donations for the calendar year of 2016 for the first time in our six-year existence. This major milestone is staggering and sobering at the same time. 226 Families are the recipients of the $200,558.24 in grant assistance. Our patients in 2016 range in ages from an 18-month-old girl from Manahawkin to an 84-year-old woman from Ocean Township. Assistance is provided in the form of financial grants including: rent, mortgage, utilities, medical, transportation, groceries and most importantly HOPE in the form of compassion, generosity and love!
$200,000.00 in grant donations for our patients battling a cancer diagnosis are a blessing and lifeline but this “Generosity of Spirit” would not be possible without the support from: our completely volunteer Board of Directors present & past, our Directors of Patient Advocacy, volunteers, individual donors, business sponsors, our youth group Generation Dream & their parents, our Southern Regional High School student group and many more. Most importantly the patients & families who inspire all of us on a daily basis!
We realize the patient grant applications continue to increase at an alarming rate but we also see the passionate, growing and energized team forming alongside David’s Dream & Believe ready to support those families in their darkest of times. We Appreciate You & Thank You!
Thanks to the generosity of so many caring individuals and businesses, 700+ families battling a cancer diagnosis have been offered financial assistance, services and most importantly HOPE through David’s Dream & Believe Cancer Foundation in the past 6 years but we need your help now more than ever! The patient grant applications continue to increase at an alarming rate while showing no signs of slowing down.
Giving Tuesday was created in 2012 and in 2015, $116 Million dollars were donated to charities across the world. This year, David’s Dream & Believe Cancer Foundation will direct 100% of the proceeds from Giving Tuesday to local New Jersey families battling a cancer diagnosis. If you would like to designate a specific family for your donation – please write the full name of the patient/family and their address in the notes section of our Giving Tuesday Donation Transaction. Click Here: Giving Tuesday!
We have a Pancake Breakfast with Santa this Sunday December 4th at TGI Friday’s in Manahawkin between 8-11am but our next major event is not until our 5th Annual Frank V. Panzone Jr. Memorial Cruisin for a Cure on Sunday May 7th. Whether you are looking for a final write-off for 2016, want to make a donation to a specific family or want to show your support for David’s Dream & Believe: Please think about donating to David’s Dream & Believe Cancer Foundation this Giving Tuesday on November 29th. As always, we thank you for your continued support and if you are looking to get more involved or want to learn about our Planned Giving initiative, Please contact Co-Founder David Caldarella at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Congratulations to Donna Carlson (Second Prize) and Tiffany Johnson (First Prize) on winning our 1st Annual Thanksgiving Day Mega 50/50 Cash Raffle!
Thank you to everybody that purchased a raffle ticket either individually or through a sponsorship of one of our 2016 events. Your support and generosity of spirit affords us the opportunity to offer financial assistance, services and most importantly HOPE to families battling a cancer diagnosis.
Congrats to our two winners, thank you and Happy Thanksgiving!