Dying neuroscientist raising funds for scholarship in her name

Nadia Chaudhri, who has terminal ovarian cancer, vows to shuffle down the hall of her palliative care unit each day as long as she is able.

The Montreal Gazette 4 minute read September 1, 2021

Nadia Chaudhri on Tuesday, Day 6 of her "shuffle" along the hallway of the palliative care unit at the McGill University Health Centre. Courtesy Moni Orife / Screen grab from Twitter

On Tuesday, a smiling Nadia Chaudhri was rocking a sunflower yellow top and an oversized polka-dotted bow tie as she sashayed along the hallway of the McGill University Health Centre palliative care unit, where she has been a patient since last week.

“Day 6 of my shuffle down the palliative card ward,” she tweeted. “Clowning around in my fave colour.”

When the Concordia University neuroscientist learned in June 2020 that she had metastatic ovarian cancer, she chose to chronicle her journey on social media. Her followers — there are more than 76,700 now — know that sunflower yellow is her favourite colour. They also know of her love for her family — she refers to her son and her husband as “my Sun & Moon” — and of her preparations to leave them.

tweet she posted in May went viral: “Today is the day I tell my son that I’m dying from cancer. 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.”

With her time, Chaudhri has also chosen to pave the way for the scientists who will come after her by launching a fundraising campaign for an annual award in her name for graduate fellowships for under-represented students who want to study neuroscience at Concordia: the Nadia Chaudhri Wingspan Award.

A colleague, Kristen Dunfield, like Chaudhri an associate professor in Concordia’s psychology department, came to visit her in palliative care and told her she was putting together a Nadia Chaudhri Wingspan Award team for an annual university fundraising event known as the Shuffle.

“And I said: ‘Why don’t I join the team and walk the palliative care floor as my shuffle?’ ” Chaudhri recalled.

The Shuffle is a walkathon at Concordia in which staff, faculty, retirees, students and alumni raise funds for scholarships, bursaries and resources and services for students; it has raised nearly $1.9 million since its inception in 1990. In non-pandemic times, the community gathers at Concordia’s Sir George Williams campus and walks to the Loyola campus. The 2021 edition, like last year’s, is self-directed, which means people shuffle when they choose.

Chaudhri posted her plan on Twitter. “I pledge to walk the length of the palliative care ward every day for as long as I can,” she tweeted. “I can do it with your help.

“And the donations just started rolling in,” Chaudhri said in a telephone interview Tuesday.

Her first shuffle walk was Aug. 26, the day her son started Grade 1. “Your donations & love are giving me wings,” she tweeted.

“It’s a combination of small amounts and big amounts and it is just adding up so fast I am shocked by the generosity of people,” she said Tuesday.

Chaudhri has had a few brief visits home and “to make the shuffle fun, I have been digging into my Halloween box,” she said. Hence the giant bow tie for Tuesday’s shuffle. For Monday’s, she donned little kitty ears, for Sunday’s a huge witch’s hat.

By the evening of Aug. 31, the Nadia Chaudhri Wingspan Award Shuffle team had raised nearly $147,000, with Chaudhri as the top fundraiser: She has raised more than any Concordian has in the Shuffle event. The sum represents the lion’s share of the $178,000 that had been raised by Tuesday evening toward the award’s $200,000 goal.

Chaudhri does the shuffle walk in the morning, when her energy level is highest. “Some days the walk is harder than others,” she said. Her husband makes the videos and she posts them.

Clearly, her followers are inspired.

One tweeted: “The palliative shuffle is more impressive than anything I saw during the Olympics.”

Another: “I am speechless with her strength and courage.”

From another: “You are grace, light, and love.”

Chaudhri said she reads the comments “until I can’t anymore because it is too overwhelming. I am overwhelmed and just so grateful. I just believe in the goodness of people.

“I think they are responding to me — but so many are responding of the cause of representing under-represented students in science,” she said. “For me, that is the biggest joy.”

Day 6 of my Shuffle down the palliative care ward. Clowning around in my fave colour. Thrilled & overjoyed by your generosity! Thank you so much for sponsoring me & turning the Nadia Chaudhri Wingspan Award into a reality. You are all beautiful, wonderful people ♥️ https://t.co/t5MqfIYtau pic.twitter.com/HqEHPQZfkq — Dr. Nadia Chaudhri (@DrNadiaChaudhri) August 31, 2021




To contribute to the Nadia Chaudhri Wingspan Award, go to bit.ly/3kCqRS9