Nadia Chaudhri, a neuroscientist with terminal ovarian cancer who used her final months to raise funds for graduate students from various backgrounds and to educate the public about her illness through a widespread social media chronicle, died on October 5 in a hospital in Montreal. She was 43.
Her husband Moni Orife confirmed her death.
Dr. Chaudhri, a professor at Concordia University in Montreal, was in palliative care at the Royal Victoria Hospital when she wrote on Twitter in August that she was going on a walk-a-thon: pacing up and down her hospital every day in a fundraising appeal for minority, women, LGBTQ and other underrepresented students doing academic research at the university operate. Her own research focused on the neural basis of drug and alcohol addiction.
Her campaign raised funds for the Nadia Chaudhri Wingspan Award, which was launched in her honor and announced by Concordia in May. She had previously raised money through a GoFundMe campaign to encourage students from different backgrounds to attend the Alcoholism Research Society’s annual conference.
In announcing the award, Dr. Chaudhri of the discrimination she experienced as a Pakistani woman in graduate school. “When I gave lectures or presentations, people often commented on my accent and not my science,” she said.
Through her walk-a-thon and large and active Twitter followers, the fund topped $ 635,000 in mid-October. Paul Chesser, vice president of fundraising for the university, said small donors lead the way: nearly 9,000 from 60 countries, who are a rare grassroots effort in institutional fundraising-raising.
“Nadia’s legacy is anchored forever here on campus in many ways,” said Chesser.
Her Twitter feed attracted more than 150,000 followers and was the backbone of her fundraising efforts. Many of her followers said they were inspired by her openness about her illness and cited her courage.
“I was so moved by your story, Nadia, and your kindness and spirit are just something I think I have never seen in such abundance,” said one Twitter user wrote. “I will carry you in my heart as long as I live.”
Dr. Chaudhri, in turn, was closely connected to her Twitter followers. Addressing donors, She wrote, “You make my last days incredibly special and meaningful.”
In May she wrote how she prepared to tell her 6 year old son about her final diagnosis. “Today is the day I tell my son I am dying of cancer,” she said. “Now let me howl with grief so I can comfort him.”
Dr. Chaudhri produced creative work in the hospital. She sent some donors copies of a short story she had written about growing up in Karachi, Pakistan. She painted and published vivid works of art with flowers and nature scenes, some inspired by pictures sent to her by her followers and some with her husband and son.
She also used her Twitter platform to solicit more research on ovarian cancer. “The bottom line is that ovarian cancer research is underfunded,” she wrote in September. “We also need more awareness of the symptoms, because early detection dramatically improves the prognosis.”
Dr. Chaudhri urged women to take care of their health. “Don’t let go of your pain or discomfort,” she wrote in a thread about her diagnosis. “Find the experienced doctors.”
She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in May 2020. The cancer resisted treatment, she said, and she was admitted to palliative care this August.
Nadia Chaudhri was born in Karachi on January 25, 1978. Her mother, Susan (Metcalf) Chaudhri, was an occupational therapist. Her father, Abdul Shakoor Chaudhri, was an orthopedic surgeon.
Nadia attended the Karachi Grammar School in Pakistan. She went to college in the United States and earned a BS in Biological Foundations of Behavior from Franklin & Marshall College in Pennsylvania in 1999. She became the first woman to win the college’s Williamson Medal for academic and extracurricular achievement.
She attended the University of Pittsburgh and received a Ph.D. in neuroscience in 2005 and wrote her dissertation on the science of cigarette addiction. From 2005 to 2009 she was a postdoctoral fellow at the Ernest Gallo Clinic and Research Center at the University of California, San Francisco.
She married Mr. Orife in 2009. Their son Reza Orife was born in 2015. In addition to her husband and son, she leaves behind her mother and sister Amina.
Dr. Chaudhri has been an assistant professor in the psychology department at the Faculty of Concordia University since 2010 and ran her own laboratory. In 2014 she got a job as an associate professor. Less than a month before her death, Concordia promoted her to full professor.