“The cancer journey is so different for so many people. But I think it all starts from the same place. When you’re first diagnosed with cancer, there is this sense of fear, uncertainty, mystery.”
2022 Spirit of Hope Honoree
Support Volunteer, Trustee, General Counsel
For nearly three decades, Joseph DePalma has been helping people facing cancer navigate that sense of fear and mystery to find hope and healing. He will be honored as the Cancer Hope Network 2022 Spirit of Hope winner at the organization’s Chrysalis Gala on October 20.
Mental Building Blocks
Joe was a young lawyer with three small children (his youngest had just celebrated her first birthday) when he was diagnosed. He recognized immediately that cancer would be a physical and emotional battle.
He focused on keeping his physical body and mental health in their best possible shape. When treatments and side effects made physical health impossible, he focused on creating mental building blocks that would bolster his mental health. “I might not be able to control the outcome of the physical nature, the chemo, the radiation, the surgery, but I could work to put my mind in a better place. And that’s what I tried to do.”
Those mental building blocks included thoughtful compartmentalization. “Whenever I let my mind wander, it took me to a negative place, to a place I didn’t want to be. I learned to take my battle for the day and come equipped in that day for that battle. I did my best not to worry about what if this happens’ or ‘what if this doesn’t happen.’”
Helping Others – Volunteer service through the years
After treatment, Joe’s desire to help and support others like he had been supported brought him to a startup called CHEMOcare, CHN’s original name. He completed Support Volunteer training and was soon being matched with patients – nearly two dozen to date. “I always look forward to those matches because I come away with a sense that I touched someone’s life and made their journey a little easier and a little better.”
As treatments changed and matches came less frequently, Joe transitioned the focus of his volunteer efforts to leadership service. He joined the Board of Trustees in 2012 and has continued his service as Support Volunteer, Trustee, and now General Counsel for thirty years.
Joe has found meaning in each of those volunteer roles, “As General Counsel, I very much enjoy providing legal advice to the Board so they can continue to do the amazing things that they do. Sitting on the Board is remarkable because I’m with an incredible group of compassionate and caring people who are all unified in the singular purpose of making sure that no one goes through a cancer journey alone.
As a volunteer, being able to speak one on one with somebody going through what I went through, I think is the most rewarding. They’re all rewarding but being a volunteer and giving somebody this sense of feeling a little bit better at the end of the conversation than when they started, I felt was not only good for them, but it was good for me, and it made me want to do it again and again.”
Benefits of Service
Joe’s years of service have been marked by a throughline – his dedication to making the world a better place and to leaving his community better than he found it.
“I think there’s this sense of the interconnectivity we all have as a society. I received so much when I was going through my journey – support from family, support from friends, from the medical community. And I wanted to give when I came out of that journey. And hopefully that circle continues so that when I give to somebody who’s going through their journey, at some point down the road, they’re going to want to do the same. Cancer Hope is an organization that so perfectly facilitates that circle…receiving and giving.”
Praise from others
His commitment is recognized and appreciated by his colleagues and friends.
“The positivity that Joe has brought to his cancer journey and CHN patients has not stopped there. He is the true optimist of the firm that we all look to in times of need.”Tamara Crocker, Chief Operating Officer, Lite DePalma Greenberg & Afanador, LLC
“Cancer Hope Network is fortunate to have hundreds of outstanding volunteers. Joseph DePalma stands out even in that talented crowd. Joe shares kindness and brilliance in equal measure, putting people at ease. His thoughtful guidance and strategic leadership have helped CHN mature into the organization we are today. We are tremendously grateful for his service.”Cynthia Gutierrez Bernstein, Executive Director & COO, Cancer Hope Network
“While I’ve been lucky enough to know Joe since he joined the Board of Trustees, you can’t truly appreciate anyone’s true essence until you play music with them. And in Joe’s case, our jam sessions over the past year tell you everything you need to know about him.
First, how modest he is about his skills and talents. Joe approached my husband, Steve, and me about a year ago wanting to get back into guitar, saying he hadn’t played in ages, wasn’t sure if he was ready, and just wanted to ease in. But in true Joe fashion, he showed up and blew us away, never telling us how amazingly good he is and how well he can hold his own on a six string in any scenario.
Second, what a team player he is. He always says he’s just happy to keep rhythm, and will always be reluctant to take the solo.
Third, what a fun, kind, and thoughtful person he is, and how important his friends and family are to him. Joe will always show up to practice with an amazing bottle of wine, great stories about concerts he’s seen, travel plans, curiosity about what everyone else is up to, and most importantly, updates about his family – all of which involve pure joy and excitement.
Steve and I are so lucky to call Joe our friend, and cannot think of anyone more deserving of this award.”Lindsay Tasher, Vice President, Cancer Hope Network Board of Trustees
Cancer Hope through the years
Cancer Hope Network was the first in the nation to provide 1:1 peer support for cancer patients and caregivers. As someone who’s been a part of the organization for nearly three quarters of its existence, Joe has witnessed the organization’s transformation from a regional Northern New Jersey startup to an organization serving “from the Atlantic Ocean to Pacific Ocean.” He’s seen our scope grow to include support for caregivers and other loved ones.
“One of the things I learned on my journey is that in addition to all the emotions that the person who has cancer is going through, is that there are other very important emotions and concerns that the person’s loved ones are going through. It’s important for the patient to be mindful of that. In different ways, caregivers need support just as much as the person who is going through their cancer battle. Cancer Hope has really brought that to new heights over the years.”
He encourages others to support Cancer Hope as volunteers and donors as an opportunity to get to the end of their own end of the tunnel and turnaround to see others that need to get through that same tunnel. “It’s very enriching and rewarding experience to know that you’ve done your best to create a better life for somebody else by giving them a sense of hope.”
The Chrysalis Gala is Saturday, October 20 at the Hyatt Regency of Morristown.
For more information or to purchase tickets, please contact Randibeth Gallant, Associate Director of Special Events (908.879.4039 ex 110) or visit cancerhopenetwork.org/gala.