For Ada Calhoun, creativity and domesticity have always been at odds


A kind, white-haired man who looked like a doctor in a children’s book came into the room with a folder and sat across from my parents and me. The scans, he said, showed numerous tumors, in both lungs and throughout the body. The type of cancer was ‘squamous cell lung cancer’. The doctor said, “We can’t cure this cancer, but we have treatments. The doctor said we only had to make one decision that day, “the first decision of a hundred more”, and that was which treatment plan to start with. He said the options were: chemotherapy, immunotherapy, both, or neither.

We all sat there stunned.

“What is your reaction when I talk about chemotherapy? asked the doctor.

“I’m a writer,” my father said. “I am still employed. I want to do anything that will help me keep writing for as long as possible. I think the chemo might tire me out too much.

The room was quiet. In front of me, my mother’s eyes were filled with tears. She looked scared.

“You say writing is what gets you out of bed in the morning,” the doctor said, clarifying.

“The idea of ​​not being able to write fills me with dread.”

“You’re not just a writer!” I said. “You are also a husband and a father and a grandfather and a friend.”

Looking exasperated, my father said, “What am I supposed to do? Just sit like a potted plant? I have no meaning for me if I don’t write.

My mother had not said a word.

“If I do nothing, how long do I have?” my father asked the doctor.

“Well, with your type of cancer and how it progresses, we’re saying the median time after diagnosis would be six months,” the doctor said. “That means half live longer than that.”

And, he didn’t say, live half as long.

Six months. Once those words were spoken, I felt like the weather in the room had changed.

“I don’t want to do chemo,” my father finally said. He opted for immunotherapy. Probably no side effects. 35% chance of improving quality of life and possibly extending it. It would simply mean an infusion every three weeks from Tuesday.

“I can’t on Tuesday,” he said. “I have a deadline.”

After the date, I bought food for my parents at a restaurant where I had previously eaten salads and discussed story ideas with a magazine editor. It was like a long time ago. As my parents and I half-heartedly ate, I asked my dad if he wanted to go on a trip or something. He said, “Maybe a ball game.”

Half an hour later we left the restaurant and found that it had started to rain. I was the only one who brought an umbrella. My dad said he wanted to walk to Chelsea to see some art. I gave my umbrella to my dad and called a car for my mom. As I stood alone in the rain, I watched my father walk away. Before turning around the corner, he lit a cigarette.

Calhoun, pictured here aged 7.

Photo: Courtesy of Ada Calhoun

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