A DOCTOR was given a devastating terminal cancer diagnosis after her symptoms were mistaken for a bladder infection.
Dr Nadia Chaudhri, a neuroscientist in Canada, is urging others not to “dismiss their pain” or put off seeing their GP.
She herself had assumed her extreme tiredness was just a result of the Covid pandemic, despite also suffering bloating and pain in her stomach.
But the mum-of-one, 43, would soon receive a devastating diagnosis of ovarian cancer.
One of the five gynaecological cancers, ovarian cancer is more typically seen in women over 50 years old.
Its main symptoms – often confused for conditions like IBS – are bloating, a swollen tummy, feeling full quickly, needing to wee more often and discomfort in the tummy or pelvic area.
Dr Chaudhri has been documenting her journey through the disease on Twitter, gaining more than 100,000 followers moved by her story.
In a viral tweet published Monday, the brave doctor explained how the warning signs of her cancer had been missed.
She wrote: “In January 2020 I started feeling unwell. I was tired, had vague abdominal pain, severe lower back pain & a mild increase in frequency to urinate.
“I was treated with antibiotics for a UTI even though I did not have classic UTI symptoms (high bacterial load, burning pee, big increase in urge to pee).”
Dr Chaudhri had an ultrasound that showed fluid in her abdomen, and possibly a ruptured ovary.
But medics decided to follow-up three months later.
Dr Chaudhri's symptoms persisted and doctors prescribed antibiotics twice more.
By March, she said "my abdomen was bloated and I was in moderate pain" and "my bowel movements had changed too so I kept taking stool softeners".
"I couldn’t see my doctor because of the pandemic," Dr Chaudhri said.
"I was incredibly tired but I chalked it up to the pandemic… I thought it was the antibiotics."
In May, Dr Chaudhri had another ultrasound showing her ovaries were enlarged and had moved, which was assumed to be caused by endometriosis.
Endometriosis is a condition where womb tissue grows in other parts of the body, and in advanced stages, can cause bands of scar tissue that can join organs together.
Looking for answers
But concerned, Dr Chaudhri showed her scan results to her uncle, a gynaecologist, who told her to get a blood test to rule out cancer.
The test looked for cancer markers, including CA 125.
Dr Chaudhri said: “My CA 125 came back at 925. The normal level is 0-35.”
After turning to a specialist, Dr Chaudhri had another ultrasound, CT scan and a laparotomy (a surgical incision into the abdominal cavity), which revealed advanced ovarian cancer.
Symptoms and facts of ovarian cancer
Target Ovarian Cancer says if you regularly experience one or more of the symptoms below, which is not normal for you, see your GP.
The main symptoms of ovarian cancer:
- Persistent bloating – not bloating that comes and goes
- Feeling full quickly and/or loss of appetite
- Pelvic or abdominal pain (that's your tummy and below)
- Urinary symptoms (needing to wee more urgently or more often than usual)
Occasionally there are other symptoms:
- Changes in bowel habit (eg diarrhoea or constipation)
- Extreme fatigue (feeling very tired)
- Unexplained weight loss
- Any bleeding after the menopause should always be investigated by a GP
Symptoms of ovarian cancer are new, frequent (more than 12 times in a month) and persistent.
FACTS ABOUT OVARIAN CANCER
Each year 7,400 women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the UK, and 4,182 die from the disease, making it the sixth most common cause of cancer death in women.
Women over the age of 50 have a higher risk, and most cases of ovarian cancer occur in women who have already gone through the menopause.
Around 15 per cent of cases are due to genetics.
There are some risk factors which may be linked with ovarian cancer, including being overweight, smoking and endometriosis.
When diagnosed early (stage 1), 95 per cent of women will survive five years or more.
This reduces to 25 per cent for stage 3, and 15 per cent for stage 4.
"They removed all of the visible disease in a four hour surgery [in June]", Dr Chaudhri said, adding she started chemotherapy in December.
But over the next few months, her condition worsened, and complications meant Dr Chaudhri had to be taken off the clinical trial for a new drug, while other therapies that worked initially, stopped working.
In spring of 2021, Dr Chaudhri was told her cancer was terminal.
Heartbreakingly, she had to tell her young son that she would soon die of cancer.
In a viral tweet in May 2021, she said: “Today Is the day I tell my son that I’m dying from cancer. It’s reached a point where he has to hear it from me.
“Let all my tears flow now so that I can be brave this afternoon. Let me howl with grief now so that I can comfort him.”
Dr Chaudhri is now in palliative care. From her hospital bed, she warned others: “I hope you found this thread helpful. Know your bodies.
"Pay attention to fatigue and changes in bowel/urinary tract movements. Make sure you understand all the words on a medical report.
“Do not dismiss your pain or malaise. Find the expert doctors.”
She said although she has endured the “most frightening time” of her life, she has “never felt so much love”, adding: “I am not afraid.”
Dr Chaudhri is raising money for a fund to support underrepresented science students. You can donate on GoFundMe here.
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