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What a stranger dying of cancer taught me about motherhood and life

What a stranger dying of cancer taught me about motherhood and life

Forest teaser

"Today is the day I tell my son that I am dying from cancer."

I will never forget the moment I ran across this heartbreaking tweet this past May from Dr. Nadia Chaudhri, a neuroscientist and professor from Montreal, Canada. 

"It's reached a point where he has to hear it from me. 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," she continued.

With two young sons of my own, this tweet stopped me in my tracks. I could not imagine being faced with that overwhelming task. I can't even begin to put myself in her shoes and think about telling my sons that I was dying. I read her tweet probably 20 times. I cried. To date, the tweet has more than 514,000 likes and more than 35,000 retweets. She also has more than 76,000 followers on Twitter.

Later that day, shared a picture of her hugging her son, who was 6 at the time, in her hospital room and said, "Our hearts broke. We cried a lot. And then the healing began. My son is brave. He is bright. He will be okay. And I will watch him grow from wherever I am. Today was the hardest day of my life. Thank you for all your love."

I've continued to follow along her journey. I check in on her nearly daily. 

Chaudhri, who grew up in Pakistan, was diagnosed with stage 3C high-grade serous ovarian cancer in June 2020. She underwent a hysterectomy and several rounds of chemotherapy, but the cancer returned. Today, she continues to fight. I hope and pray she's around for a really long time.

Although I don't know her, and have had no interaction with her, she's taught me so much and I will forever be a better person for having found her through social media. Here are a few life lessons she's shown me:

Strive to make the world a better place.

It would be easy for Chaudhri to focus only on herself and her husband and son right now. I wouldn't blame her.

But she continues to care about her field, and she is currently raising funds for the Nadia Chaudhri Wingspan Award, which will be given annually to a graduate student from an underrepresented group who wants to do neuroscience research at Concordia University. She has pledged to walk the length of the palliative care ward where she is being cared for every day for as long as she can. 

Talk about strength.

Relish the little things.

I love when Chaudhri points out the little things she enjoys in her life right now. Things like being here to watch her garden grow, baking cookies, eating her favorite Miss Vickie's chips, family dinners, making art, going for a walk in the woods and feeling the rain on her face as she sits in her garden.

It reminded me to stop and appreciate those little things I don't often pause to notice enough.

It's OK — even good — to talk about death with kids. This includes whatever you think comes after this life.

Chaudhri talks with her son often about her cancer. They talk about her final resting place, a forest, and how her ashes will nourish the plants and fungi. She talks about her ancestors waiting to greet her.

Many people who lost parents to cancer as children chimed in to say how glad they were that their parents prepared them so well. They told Chaudhri she's doing the right thing and let her know they turned out just fine. Many said they wished their parents had better prepared them, or told them even a little bit about what was happening.

It's given me lessons on how to talk to my own children, should I be faced with a similar circumstance myself or with helping them prepare to lose a family member or friend.

Continue to live life no matter what you're going through.

As I said above, it would be easy (and even understandable) for Chaudhri to give up; to focus only on herself and family. I wouldn't blame her for being angry or upset, which I am sure she feels at times. (Who wouldn't?) But she doesn't show it.

Despite her prognosis and the pain she is in from her recurring bowel obstructions, she continues to be the embodiment of grace and love. She continues to help people. She continues to enjoy her life and make memories with friends and family. I love that she has art time with her son and continues to do their bedtime routine as often as she can. She's reminded me to enjoy every minute I have on this Earth with my loved ones, especially my children.

She's created a legacy that I have no doubt will live on long after she passes away; it will be a legacy her son will be able to look to as he grows into an adult with a life and possibly a family of his own. That's all any of us can really hope for, right?

I know I will always remember her — whether it's when I see a bag of Miss Vickie's chips at the grocery store, when I spend time in my garden or feel the rain on my face. I will always be grateful for the impact her simple, yet powerful tweets have had on my life.


Ashlee Coffey is the editor of She is married with two sons — Sam and Elliott. Follow her on Twitter @AshleeCoffeyOWH. Phone: 402-444-1075.

Omaha World-Herald: Momaha

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