In June 2017 my most beloved mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. It was the biggest shock and my worst fear to ever see my mom sick. My mother was the epitome of health, her whole adult life she would speed walk miles every day in our neighborhood and do the elliptical for hours as well. She always cooked the best homemade foods with the freshest and cleanest ingredients. At age 58 to be diagnosed was impossible for us to comprehend. But my mother has always been the strongest and most incredible woman I have ever and will ever know. She took the news of cancer as if someone told her she would need a couple of stitches for a small wound. She simply said "okay when do we start", when the doctor told her the plan moving forward for surgery and treatment.
From that day I moved back from Virginia to Baltimore to be with my mother. I took her to every doctor appointment, every treatment, every bloodwork, every follow up, and spent every moment with her. After a grueling six+ hour abdominal hysterectomy and six sessions of chemotherapy my mom was cleared in November 2017. It felt like the world was back under my feet again and we could all finally breathe. But my mom would always say, “I think my cancer is tougher because I’m so tough..I made it stronger”, and it came back. Only a few months later on the same day my grandfather, my mother’s father, had a massive stroke and passed away the same day we found out her cancer had returned, this time to her lymph nodes.
We decided to now begin treatments at MD Anderson in Houston, TX. Every few weeks my mom and I would book another flight and fly from Baltimore to Houston, and this went on for several months. My beautifully brave mother tried every option; multiple immunotherapy trials, targeted therapy, and finally a cutting edge T-Cell treatment therapy. During this treatment my mom and I lived in the hospital for over a month, and what she went through is impossible to talk about..she is just my champion and my whole world.
But it never seemed to get better, every time we would get news about how the CA125 levels were still increasing. We returned to Baltimore to continue standard treatment. Throughout this whole period we were also planning my wedding. My mom did everything, while fighting cancer. The wedding was set for April 2019 and my mom kept asking her doctor to just please get her to April. I kept telling her, we’re thinking way past April mama. The wedding weekend was beautiful and perfect, my mom was at her best. She danced all night, she laughed all day, she gave a speech, and she was smiling brighter than I’d ever seen. She was celebrating her life. You would never have known she was having such trouble breathing, let alone even sick.
On May 7th 2019, the love of my life, my best friend, my whole universe passed away. One month after the happiest weekend of our lives. It was extremely sudden, shocking, and terrifying. Life has been unbearably hard and impossible to recognize.
My mom always so badly wanted to help women going through this. She would constantly say to me "I just want to get better so I can talk to women who are going through this and help them and tell them they'll be okay." Her biggest desire was to be a survivor only so that she could help everyone else and tell them her story. So it’s my responsibility now, I have to tell my mom's story and share what she did so other women and the world know that they can be just as brave and strong as the bravest and strongest woman I know. I don't want to stop until every woman knows the early signs of ovarian cancer and until the world recognizes that not all cancer is pink. I want everyone to know what ovarian cancer took from me, so that it never shatters another family every again.
A couple months ago I suddenly got a huge desire to run the NYC marathon. I wanted to do the marathon for my mom and to feel like I had a purpose again, to raise awareness for her and this disease. I am not a runner by any means, but I have the strongest desire to do this for her, and I would do anything for her. So on November 1st 2020 I will be at that starting line in NYC. After seeing what she went through, everything else seems easy. This will be my first ever marathon, and it will be hard, but cancer is harder.
Since a very young age, I saw how my mama would light up when she talked of those dedicated to helping the sick and I knew I wanted to fulfill my best friend’s dreams as well as my own by becoming a physician. We were always a team and I’ll never forget the day I got into medical school and our dream came true.
On June 19, 2017, during my intern year of residency, my mom went to the emergency room because her stomach was feeling bloated with fluid. I was horrified. I never ever thought about cancer in my dear mama who was the most active person I had ever known. Who never smoked, never drank, never needed medications. Who made me brave and whole and whose smile I have searched for in every room my whole life.
My mama was diagnosed with Stage 3 ovarian cancer. I will never forget the way I felt. I will never forget the question rising in my throat like bile that day and every day since — as a medical resident how had I not known what this was. As a daughter how did I not know the body of the person whose soul was my own.
Even though she was the one diagnosed, my mama was a pillar of strength for us. For 1 year and 11 months my mama fought harder than any person I will ever know. She smiled every single day through a total abdominal hysterectomy, months of chemotherapy, of immunotherapy, multiple trial medications, scans and procedures, and side effects that almost killed her. She made it look easy and never felt like a patient; she continued to laugh, and play, and joke, and stay as active as possible.
During her entire illness, my mama was adamant that I could not quit my residency and come home. She told me that I was helping patients and that pride was giving her the strength she needed from me. So I worked for her. I spent my nights calling and FaceTiming to see the joy she got from my stories. I listened in on every appointment, speaking to her physicians so I could understand and explain nonsensical medical jargon. I spent every spare moment I could find trying to drive home or fly to appointments. It was never enough but I lived off the smile I would see on her face when I entered a room and that’s what I held onto. And still, she continued to take care of all of us; she was our rock.
My beloved mother shockingly passed away on May 7, 2019. A month later I numbly graduated residency and became sedentary. I could not work as a physician and my entire purpose felt lost. In September, I came across the NOCC Teal 5K run and doing it ignited a fire in me to become active again, which my mama encouraged every day. Running slowly became a means for me to have a goal, space, and get active - but I’ve never completed even close to a marathon. When my sister told me she had been accepted to this team and was so brave about running - I was amazed and my heart felt a pull towards the opportunity to also complete something seemingly impossible in honor of my mama, alongside my sister.
It’s taken me 10 months but I have finally found the courage to be a physician again and have started my first real job in NYC. My mama always told me, “Fatima, treat every patient like she is your own mother.” I have tried to live by that every day I can and I want to extend that to every woman I can access. My mom dreamt of finding a cure and raising more awareness for ovarian cancer and I am so grateful for the opportunity to honor her by drawing attention to the National Ovarian Cancer Coalition.
Please help me find the strength to run the New York Marathon for this amazing cause— in honor of the woman who wore the same exact smile after chemotherapy treatments that she wore the day I got into medical school, the day my sister got married, the day I entered the hospital room the week she passed away, and every single day of her whole life. For every woman out there who has bravely fought and who is someone’s everything. Let’s help get this message out there to prevent any more daughters losing their precious mothers due to this disease. Let’s prevent any diagnoses going unseen and unrecognized its too late. For the cure, and so much more, please help me get to the starting line on November 1, 2020 - for the love of my life, Shireen Chaudhri.
Thank you so much.