DANVERS — In-the-know patients at Mass General/North Shore Cancer Center in Danvers know to look for signs of Tom Gould's presence.
"It's ice cream day!" exclaimed a woman in a wheelchair when she spotted a man walking out the front doors carrying a heaping cup of vanilla ice cream with chocolate sprinkles.
If there are no tangible signs at the front, patients' heads instinctively turn as they round the corner into the reception area, hoping to see Gould's table set up in the usual spot.
"When they see the table, it's, 'Is Tom coming?'" said Rose Watson, a patient services coordinator. "They love it."
Gould, the owner of Treadwell's Ice Cream in Peabody, has been doling out tasty sundaes at the cancer center every month for the last decade — and free of charge. He arrives on a different day each month to catch as many cancer patients as he can.
"They get really excited about it — it makes their day," said Krissy DeSimone, a hospital greeter.
"We get a lot of patients who want to know when Tom is coming," Watson said, "so they can book their appointments around him."
When Gould arrives for his monthly visit, everyone at the center hears about it pretty quickly. The center's 83 employees — and some of the just over 200 employees that work at the hospital — sporadically migrate downstairs to grab a sundae and pick up a few to deliver to the patients upstairs.
Gould gives out about 150 sundaes per visit and estimates he's given away more than 18,000 sundaes to patients, family and staff over the last 10 years. What he takes away from the visits is more than worth it.
"We've made friends with patients, we receive Christmas cards from survivors and thank-yous from those who have lost loved ones," he said. "We feel like we're part of the family."