Nadia Chaudhri: Neuroscientist who made it last mission to save other women dies of ovarian cancer aged 43

·4 min read
Dr Nadia Chaudhri was a psychology professor at Concordia University in Montreal  (Concordia University)
Dr Nadia Chaudhri was a psychology professor at Concordia University in Montreal (Concordia University)

Canadian neuroscientist Nadia Chaudhri, who died of ovarian cancer earlier this month, spent her last weeks raising thousands of dollars for marginalised students.

Chaudhri died on 5 October, less than a month after announcing on Twitter that she was dying and making it her final mission to raise awareness about cancer. Her husband, Moni Orife, confirmed that the 43-year-old died after her year-long battle with a terminal diagnosis.

But the award-winning, Pakistan-born neuroscientist did not go quietly. She used her gritty story to issue an urgent warning to help underrepresented students.

She was a psychology professor at Concordia University in Montreal and was in palliative care at the Royal Victoria Hospital for “high-grade serous epithelial, platinum-resistant ovarian cancer.” In simpler terms, she had said, she will never make it home.

But Chaudhri managed to successfully raise more than $636,000 (around £460,900) in the time that she had.

In August, she had announced from the hospital that she would begin a walkathon by pledging to pace the length of the palliative care unit ward to raise funds for minority, female, LGBTQ and other graduate students who aspire to neuroscience research at Concordia.

The funds will go to the Nadia Chaudhri Wingspan Award, which was established in Concordia University in her honour.

Chaudhri became popular on social media after announcing her terminal illness, and using her backing of 150,000 strong followers on Twitter to continuously inspire. She used the platform to speak of her daily struggles with the disease and share inspiring videos where she swayed to music from her hospital bed, besides making fund-raising appeals.

“I’ve been so moved by your story, Nadia, and your kindness and spirit are just something I don’t think I’ve ever seen in such abundance before,” one Twitter user wrote. “I will carry you in my heart for as long as I live.”

In May, Chaudhri wrote on Twitter about how she was preparing herself to tell her 6-year-old son about her terminal diagnosis.

“Today is the day I tell my son that I’m dying from cancer,” she said. “Let me howl with grief now so that I can comfort him.”

Despite her accolades in Canada and the US, she remained connected to her homeland Pakistan. Establishing the Wingspan award, Chaudhri spoke about the discrimination she faced as a Pakistani woman in graduate school.

“When I gave talks or presentations, people often commented on my accent instead of my science,” she said.

She also sent some donors copies of a short story she wrote about her years growing up years in Karachi, Pakistan, and pictures reminiscing her childhood there.

On Twitter, she offered a painfully detailed account of what had happened to her and urged women to “know your bodies” and “pay attention to fatigue and changes”.

She said in one of the posts that her final journey was frightening, but was also “filled with brightness and love” as she spent precious time with her husband and son and with “friends and a tribe of supporters who have bolstered me into the clouds”.

“I will feast in my new life and welcome everyone to my forest table,” she said on 14 September. “I am not afraid.”

Born in Karachi in 1978, she attended Karachi Grammar School and went to the Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania for college after she moved to the US for further studies.

During her graduation in Bachelor of Science in the biological foundations of behaviour, she became the first recipient of the Williamson Medal for outstanding academic and extracurricular achievement. She then earned her PhD from the University of Pittsburgh and went on to become a postdoctoral fellow at the University of California San Francisco.

She joined the Concordia University faculty in 2010 after marrying Mr Orife in 2009. Chaudhri is survived by her husband, son, mother and her sister.

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