When Dr. Stuart Gold has a bad day at the cancer clinic, he goes to the waiting room, where pictures are displayed of every child he’s ever treated. He remembers all of them.
Some are survivors. Some are not. But as Dr. Gold says, “Every child writes their own story.”
And he knows every one.
For someone who is regularly kicked in the shins by little feet, Dr. Gold is surprisingly chipper. “You have to have a good sense of humor,” he says, which is exactly why the kids adore him. They’re constantly teasing him, chasing him or calling him silly names. He may be the chief of the department, but he knows who’s really in charge.
The children in his clinic have some of the happiest faces you’ll ever see – even when there’s no hair on top of them. They go to Hospital School. They watch TV. They eat pizza. Anything a kid could want, the clinic’s got it. Dr. Gold knows that the secret to caring for a pediatric cancer patient is actually treating them no differently than any other kid. “This is the most important thing,” he says. “If you treat them differently, that’s when they realize that something’s wrong. You discipline them and love them just as you always did. If you treat them like normal, they will be normal kids.”
He knows that they’re not treating just the child; they’re treating a whole family. And in a real sense, Dr. Gold’s team becomes a part of the family. When bad news comes and parents weep, Dr. Gold weeps right along with them. “I always say that the day I don’t cry when a child dies is the day I will walk out the door and leave medicine,” he says.
And when those heartbreaking moments come, he finds comfort in his favorite things about his Chapel Hill life: having a meal at Lantern or enjoying time with his husband, Don Steinberg, in their little rose garden. But even on the dark days, there’s no place Dr. Gold would rather be than the clinic, with its cheerful blue walls and treatment bay full of mischievous kids. “It’s not about the cancer,” he says. “It’s about life.”