Meet The Doctor Raising Awareness For Ovarian Cancer Symptoms After Hers Were Mistaken For A UTI

In Australia, each day four women are diagnosed with ovarian cancer and three will die from the disease. For those diagnosed with the disease, the five-year survival rate is 46 per cent, compared to breast cancer which is at 91 per cent. It’s estimated that 1,510 Australian women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer each year and with statistics pointing to 1,046 women that will die from the disease, it equates to a staggering one woman every eight hours that dies from ovarian cancer. Even despite this information, when it comes to the symptoms of ovarian cancer, many women don’t know what to look for. It’s this experience that one doctor can relate to, having opened up about how her symptoms were mistaken for a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) via Twitter. 

In a Twitter thread that has since gone viral, neuroscientist Dr Nadia Chaudhri shared her story with some 100,000 followers in an effort to raise awareness of ovarian cancer. She began her post by writing, “I want to talk about ovarian cancer. Specifically my gritty story.”

Dr Chaudhri then detailed her symptoms. “In January 2020 I started feeling unwell. I was tired, had vague abdominal pain, severe lower back pain and a mild increase in frequency to urinate,” she explained. “I was treated with antibiotics for a UTI even though I did not have classic UTI symptoms.”

After undergoing an endovaginal ultrasound – a test used to look at the uterus, ovaries, tubes, cervix and pelvic area, doctors then found “free fluid in the abdomen” and the “possibility of a ruptured left ovarian cyst.” She was then told to follow up in three months. 

A month on, Dr Chaudhri was prescribed another course of antibiotics and while she admits that they initially alleviated some of her symptoms, by March things had gotten much worse. “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.”

After another month passed and, alongside it, another course of antibiotics, Dr Chaudhri had a second endovaginal ultrasound. This revealed that her ovaries were enlarged and had moved towards the middle of her abdomen. As there was also more fluid in her abdomen, radiologists were quick to suspect endometriosis. Unwilling to get just one opinion, Dr Chaudhri consulted her gynaecologist who recommended a blood test for cancer. “He [the gynaecologist] said I should get a blood test to check CA 125, CA 19 and CEA. These are cancer markers. He wanted to rule them out before pursuing endometriosis as an option,” explained Dr Chaudhri. 

“My CA 125 came back at 925. The normal level is 0-35.”

It was only after another endovaginal ultrasound, CT scan and a surgical incision into the abdominal cavity that surgeons discovered Dr Chaudhri did in fact have ovarian cancer. “They cut me open from sternum to pubic bone. Indeed, I had cancer,” she said. “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’.”

What followed was a round of chemotherapy alongside immunotherapy and other medications. Despite first showing signs of improvement, a series of bowel obstructions meant Dr Chaudhri then had to be moved into palliative care. “Between March [2021] and now I’ve had more bowel obstructions than I care to count,” she told her followers. “It is why I have moved to palliative care. I can’t poop or pass gas. I can’t eat. I’ve been on IV fluids for 2 weeks.”

It’s an emotional and deeply personal story, but in sharing it with followers and by extension, the wider world, Dr Chaudhri hopes that other women will learn from her experience. “The bottom line is that ovarian cancer research is underfunded. We also need more awareness of symptoms because early detection improves diagnosis dramatically, she explained. 

“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.”

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