Neuroscientist Says Her Ovarian Cancer Symptoms Were Mistaken for UTI in Viral Thread

A Canada-based neuroscientist and professor has opened up about her experience with ovarian cancer, explaining that she had initially been misdiagnosed with a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI). The thread, posted on Twitter by Dr. Nadia Chaudhri, has since gone viral, racking up over 56,000 likes and 15,000 retweets.

Dr. Chaudhri's story speaks to the often devastating effects of ovarian cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, "a woman's risk of getting ovarian cancer during her lifetime is about 1 in 78," and "her lifetime chance of dying from ovarian cancer is about 1 in 108."

In 2021, it's estimated that 21,410 women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer in the U.S., while an estimated 13,770 will pass away from the disease.

In her Twitter thread, Dr. Chaudhri explained that she began to first feel "unwell" in January 2020. "I was tired, had vague abdominal pain, severe lower back pain & a mild increase in frequency to urinate," she wrote.

"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]," she added.

She also received an endovaginal ultrasound at the time, which suggested "the possibility of a ruptured left ovarian cyst." She was told to follow up after three months.

Now that I have 100K followers, I want to talk about #OvarianCancer. Specifically my gritty story. The goal is awareness. I hope you find this narrative informative.

— Dr. Nadia Chaudhri (@DrNadiaChaudhri) September 13, 2021

A combination of antibiotics and laxatives appeared to briefly help Dr. Chaudhri's symptoms—but by mid-February, her symptoms returned.

"Come March, the pandemic struck. By now my abdomen was bloated and I was in moderate pain," she said. "My bowel movements had changed too so I kept taking stool softeners. I couldn't see my doctor because of the pandemic. I was incredibly tired but I chalked it up to the pandemic."

In April, Dr. Chaudhri took another round of antibiotics, and in May, a second endovaginal ultrasound "showed that [her] ovaries were enlarged and had moved toward the middle of [her] abdomen."

She added that the ultrasound also revealed ascites, or fluid accumulations, in her abdomen. At that point, her radiologist thought the issue could have been caused by endometriosis.

However, when Dr. Chaudhri's uncle, a gynecologist, saw her scans, he suggested that she "get a blood test to check CA 125, CA 19 and CEA," a series of cancer markers.

"My CA 125 came back at 925. The normal level is 0-35," she wrote.

After another endovaginal ultrasound, a CT scan, and a laparotomy, it was confirmed that Dr. Chaudhri did, in fact, have cancer.

"They cut me open from sternum to pubic bone...They removed all of the visible disease in a four hour surgery. It happened on June 10 2020. About 6 months after I first started 'feeling bad,'" she noted.

After six cycles of chemotherapy, Dr. Chaudhri's CA levels dropped down to 125. Combined with other treatment, her condition appeared to be improving.

However, in mid-December, her CA levels "started to creep up" once again.

In the subsequent months, a series of bowel obstructions—combined with medications that haven't worked—have forced her to move into palliative care.

"I can't poop or pass gas," she said. "I can't eat. I've been on IV fluids for 2 weeks."

According to Dr. Chaudhri, "the bottom line is that ovarian cancer research is underfunded."

"We also need more awareness of symptoms because early detection improves prognosis dramatically," she wrote.

"Know your bodies," she warned. "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 ended the thread with a powerful message: "I am not afraid."

Dr. Chaudhri's frank and honest online presence, especially in the wake of her diagnosis, has impacted her 120,000 Twitter followers—while her work as an academic and professor has reached many more.

Known for her research at Concordia University, Dr. Chaudhri set up a GoFundMe earlier this year to support her laboratory's work—and the young scientists who will keep it running for years to come. The fundraiser has surpassed its $200,000 goal, with $213,156 having been donated as of September 17.

Doctor Holding Patient's Hand
A doctor recently opened up about her experience with being diagnosed with ovarian cancer. A doctor holding the hand of a patient in Reno, Nevada, 2020. PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP/Getty Images