David’s Dream For Others | By: Lisa Anderson | Greater Media Newspapers

David’s Dream For Others

By: Lisa Anderson, Greater Media Newspapers

“David Caldarella was a gift to his parents when he was born on Christmas Day in 1968. His life’s work keeps on giving even after surviving Stage 4 cancer of the head and neck.  David’s Dream and Believe Cancer Foundation offers financial assistance, services and most of all hope to more than 500 families. On a personal level, David has become great friends with many of the cancer patients and would not have it any other way. With more than $400,000 in grant donations given to families in desperate need of help, David calls his foundation “a beacon of hope.”

David came to his current position through twists of fate. He had a typical childhood in northern New Jersey. He attended Holy Trinity Elementary School and went on to Bergen Catholic High School. The Caldarella family eventually moved to Long Beach Island where they had enjoyed spending summer vacations.

Upon graduating from college, David was a project manager in construction and environmental work in northern New Jersey for 15 years, overseeing the construction of the famous Jersey Gardens Mall in Elizabeth.

The commute from southern New Jersey to northern New Jersey was tough, but it wasn’t until an accident on the N.J. Turnpike that David realized he was ready for a change.  He took a job in Mount Laurel at a mortgage company owned by his sister and later became a project manager for Walters Homes overseeing a site on Route 72 in Manahawkin.

In 2009, David was laid off and decided to move to Florida. He began taking classes and signed up for the Coast Guard in 2010, just making the cutoff age of 41. David had always wanted to join, feeling the need to serve a greater good.  David had plans to leave within a week to meet with a Coast Guard officer in Kentucky, but one evening after returning from dinner with a friend, David noticed he had trouble swallowing. Within 48 hours, he discovered a lump on the right side of his neck. He booked a flight back home and never returned.

On April 20, 2010, David heard the dreaded words “You have cancer.” On April 22, he found out it was Stage 4 head and neck cancer.
David began his treatment at Southern Ocean Medical Center and then received the majority of his care under the supervision of surgeon Dr. David Cognetti, medical oncologist Dr. Rita Axelrod and a cast of hundreds at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia.
For the next seven months, he endured tremendous pain, surgery and aggressive chemotherapy.  In David’s words, “the cancer proved to be nothing short of hell on earth. It was also my faith in God and the love from my family, friends and strangers that buoyed my courage to continue to fight.”
His medical team showed no limits in their compassion in supporting David, something that continues to this day.

It was during the most difficult times when David watched the clock and was unsure “if I would make it to the next minute … literally even the next second” that he began thinking of the dream and action of creating a charity that would make his nieces and nephew proud of their uncle, something that would “pay it forward,” something they would remember long after his life would end, whether it was from the cancer or many years later.
David said his initial thought was to help “maybe one or two families a year.” However, five years later, David’s Dream and Believe Cancer Foundation is assisting hundreds. New to the foundation is a Patient Advocate Committee which includes nurses, caregivers and patients themselves.
“Who better to help others in the healing process than others who have gone or are going through the same thing?” says David.
He credits the success of the foundation to family members; to his girlfriend, Catherine, who is a breast cancer survivor and supports David and the foundation 110 percent; and to the many friends and volunteers who donate so much time.  “We have a board of directors who have served and currently serve on a 100 percent volunteer basis. It is so inspiring to be surrounded by such love and compassion and dedication,” he said.

I asked David about his life now that he devotes all of his time to helping others and he told me with a smile that his five-year cancer-free anniversary had just passed and he was so thankful for the news.  “I have many blessings … Catherine, who is my rock, my family and friends,” along with a schedule that would tire out a toddler.  If you ever get to meet David, you will immediately know this is someone doing God’s work on Earth. He is one of the greatest people I have ever had the privilege to know.  “Back when I was about to leave for the Coast Guard, my main purpose was to serve a greater good,” David told me. “It may not be the road I thought it would be, but when I look around at all the beautiful faces and all the families we have been able to help, and I see the courage and determination of those who are battling cancer and how they handle the pain and the heartache, I know I am in fact serving a greater good, only in a much different way. I wouldn’t change it for anything. I didn’t find it … it found me.””

For information about how to become involved and help support the foundation, to read testimonials and David’s blog, and to find out about events such as Cruisin’ for a Cure and Run For Hope, visit David’s website at davidsdreamandbelieve.org

Lisa Anderson is a Greater Media radio personality who writes occasional columns for Greater Media Newspapers. She may be contacted at landerson@gmnews.com