When 44-year-old psychology professor and neuroscientist Nadia Chaudhri first brought her symptoms to her doctor’s attention, she was sent home with a treatment plan for a urinary tract infection. That was January of 2020. The following months would be spent receiving a second, and then third course of antibiotics to treat an illness that wasn’t actually the problem at all.
By May – four months after the initial conversation – an exam led a radiologist to suggest endometriosis. But a relative in Dr. Chaudhri’s family who was also a gynecologist didn’t believe that was correct. He suggested that his niece go get a blood test for cancer markers. Two weeks later – and six months after first bringing her symptoms to her doctors – she was in surgery for a laparotomy after being diagnosed with high grade serus epithelial, platinum-resistant ovarian cancer.
Rather than withdrawing into her pain, Dr. Chaudhri has used her remaining time to ensure that she has educated as many women as humanly possible about the symptoms of ovarian cancer and the need to be their own advocates in their medical care. She has amassed over 100,000 followers on Twitter and has used the site to share her story.
Her symptoms began with fatigue, an overall pain in her abdomen, sharp pain in her lower back, and an increased need to urinate. This progressed to a bloated abdomen and an increase in her overall pain levels. As the COVID-19 pandemic raged, Dr. Chaudhri found herself unable to get an appointment with her medical doctor. Finally able to be seen, an ultrasound revealed enlarged ovaries that had moved within her abdomen.
Additional symptoms of ovarian cancer include nausea, vomiting, a feeling of being full even though you weren’t able to finish a meal, a burning feeling during urination, and a change in the frequency of urination.
If these symptoms sound incredibly vague, it’s because they are. In fact, according to the American Cancer Society, only about 20% of ovarian cancer cases are found early. In many cases, the only reason a case is diagnosed is because the symptoms have reached a point of severity that arrives when the cancer has spread outside of the ovary. Ovarian cancer is not generally screened for on a routine basis and if it were, there are a number of more benign conditions that can also cause an elevation in the same markers as ovarian cancer.
Sadly, this means that women need to be ready to advocate for their own health and testing in the event that their doctor isn’t putting the pieces together. Under no circumstances should a patient ever feel that raising the possibility of their own disease with their doctor is off limits. In fact, because of how vague the symptoms of ovarian cancer can be, it may be up to the patient to raise the possibility of ovarian cancer with their doctor rather than the doctor deciding to check for it.
Having done as much as she can to save as many lives as possible during this time through awareness, Dr. Chaudhri – a wife and mother to a six-year-old son – appears at peace with the final stage of her life. “I am not afraid,” she wrote on Twitter. “I’m surrounded by love and ready for the pain to end.”
May her lessons and work be not in vain. Pay attention to your body and listen to the things it tries to tell you. Advocate for your health and wellness when no one else will. Be loud if necessary. And do not ever, under any circumstances, be afraid to bring up a topic with your doctor even though they might not have brought it up themselves. Your life could very well depend on it.