Doctors at OhioHealth Riverside Methodist Hospital were brutally honest with Mike Golden when they discovered a cancerous mass on his lungs on Sept. 23. The grizzled veteran football coach wouldn’t want it any other way.
“They said I had about a 25 percent chance of coming through it,” said Golden, who was in his third year as coach at Delaware Hayes High School and 28th overall. “I was made to feel that I’d never coach again, let alone teach. Of course, news like that hits you like a ton of bricks, but I’m an eternal optimist. I took the attitude that I’d be OK.”
Because of the delicate positioning of the rare neuroendocrine tumor, surgery was deemed too risky, so within two days Golden started an aggressive course of four rounds of chemotherapy and 40 consecutive days of radiation treatments. The cancer also had spread to his throat.
After his second consecutive three-month scan in early June confirmed that he was cancer-free, doctors gave Golden the green light to resume coaching.
There is no guarantee, however, that the cancer won’t re-emerge.
“It’s a miracle, it truly is,” said Golden, 61. “I never felt like I was going through this alone. I had a lot of support from family, friends, people in the coaching profession and the folks at Delaware. A lot of prayers and positive thoughts got me through this.”
Late last summer, Golden said he felt unusually fatigued but attributed it to age and long two-a-day practices and conditioning in the heat. In early September, his head became swollen and he had difficulty speaking. Family doctors treated it as a sinus infection.
“It finally got to the point that my wife, Susie, insisted that I go to the hospital to be checked out and she drove me to Riverside,” Golden said. “They sent me from one doctor to another and I could see the urgency in their faces. It wasn’t long before I got the bad news.”
After guiding Delaware to a 3-1 start, Golden took a leave of absence that extended through the remainder of the season. With his assistants collectively assuming his responsibilities, the Pacers wound up 4-6.
One of the most successful and venerable coaches in central Ohio following stints at Watterson (1988-2002), New Albany (2004) and Upper Arlington (2005-13), Golden received an outpouring of support during his treatments, which were grueling to say the least.
“Chemo and radiation are as bad as you can imagine, and I was getting the most powerful doses they could administer,” he said. “I couldn’t care less about losing my hair. But you just feel horrible all the time during chemo. Its purpose is to kill everything, and that includes non-cancerous cells, too. I was too weak to drive until January. I lost about 30 pounds. The one positive out of this ordeal was that I was able to reconnect with a lot of people who came to support me when I was struggling. Something like this sure changes the way you look at things.”
During this time, Golden was named to the inaugural class of the Central District Football Coaches Association Hall of Fame. He also received the Tyson Gentry Courage Award from the Columbus Chapter of the National Football Coaches Foundation and a Sportsmanship, Ethics and Integrity Award from the Ohio High School Athletic Association.
Golden had smoked since age 21.
“It’s a great lesson,” he said. “You always think it’s not going to happen to you. But I’m telling anyone who will listen, smoking will catch up to you eventually. Consider this fair warning. Fear is the best medicine.”
Those who questioned the reasoning behind Golden accepting the job at long-struggling Delaware in 2014 now wonder why he wanted to return after such a major health setback.
“When (principal) Ric Stranges hired me, I thought it would be a short-term fix – a couple years maybe – and I could turn it over to one of the assistants,” he said. “It’s been more of a challenge than I anticipated, but we’re building a great infrastructure to give the kids a better chance to possibly have some success. It’s a year-by-year thing for me at this stage, but I’m more committed than ever to finish the job at Delaware, especially considering how wonderful those people been to me.”
Golden conceded that he will lean more heavily on his assistants as he regains his strength. Lingering scar tissue leaves him with stretches of throat soreness, shortness of breath and a weakened voice. He now uses an inhaler.
“I don’t know what it will be like when I have to start yelling,” he said, jokingly. “I’m going to have to pace myself and be more cautious. I’ll delegate a lot of things, for sure, and that’s nothing new since those guys handled it last year.”