Fatima Ali from ‘Top Chef’ Shared What Frightened Her Most Before Her Death
Over the past several months, Fatima Ali from Top Chef penned a number of essays about her cancer battle. In 2017, the fan favorite chef was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, cancer that affects the bone and soft tissue, The New York Times reports.
Ali died on January 25, 2019, and expressed her hopes, dreams and even her biggest fears in her writings. Most of her work is featured in Bon Appetit, addressing how having cancer impacted the way she cooked. “A surgery to remove the tumor has excavated 30 percent of bone and tissue from my scapula, permanently affecting my range of motion,” she wrote. “I’ll never be able to high-five my friends with my left hand again. Will I be able to cook?”
She managed to forge forward, leaving behind beautiful words and deep insights into what it is like to feel life slipping away at a young age. Death itself is terrifying to face. But is that what frightened her most?
This was what she envisioned for the future
While she dealt with chemotherapy, Ali hoped to open her own restaurant. “I dream of my future restaurant, where the kebabs melt against your tongue and the cocktails are just sweet enough to calm the burn. I have never felt more fulfilled than when I let myself crawl into bed late night after a back-breaking day of cooking.”
She knew cancer would change her forever, but reconciled that change. “I dream of being myself again, but I know I’ll never quite be the same, and that’s okay. I know I’ll be different, and, despite the worry that settles into me every time I wake up, I look forward to meeting that woman one day.”
And ached for this
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Had the most incredible time at pebble beach food and wine. I cried after service in my room because I was so overwhelmed with joy at being able to cook again. I was so scared I wouldn’t be able to keep up, especially with my left arm handicap but with the help of my bff @shilpausk we kicked ass and I couldn’t be more grateful. I am so lucky to be able to still do what I love despite my illness and I can’t WAIT till my treatment is over so I can open up my own restaurant in beautiful California and show the world all the beautiful food of Pakistan #fuckcancer #topchef photo credit @offthemenu831
When the cancer virulently returned, Ali wrote about what she looked forward to seeing someday. “I was looking forward to being 30, flirty, and thriving,” she wrote. “Guess I have to step it up on the flirting. I have no time to lose.”
Ali adds that when given a finite time for life, people rush to truly live. “It’s funny, isn’t it? When we think we have all the time in the world to live, we forget to indulge in the experiences of living. When that choice is yanked away from us, that’s when we scramble to feel. I am desperate to overload my senses in the coming months, making reservations at the world’s best restaurants, reaching out to past lovers and friends, and smothering my family, giving them the time that I so selfishly guarded before.”
This is what frightened her most
Ali wrote that she used her time reconnecting with people whose relationships were left unresolved. “In my wallet, I keep a crumpled cocktail napkin with a list of names scrawled on it,” she wrote. “They’re people I need to make amends to before I go. I have to learn how to ask for forgiveness without expecting to receive it. It’s probably the most frightening thing I have ever had to do, and I’ve experienced some seriously terror-inducing moments.”
Ali offers valuable advice
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I know it’s been ages since I posted and most may have figured out why. I’m sick and unfortunately I’m getting sicker. Right now all I need are prayers; prayers that are simple. I hope, because a wish is putting on too much responsibility on the other, that you will somehow find forgiveness in your big heart for whenever I must have hurt you. I thank you a million times over for when you have given me joy. I’ll try to keep everyone updated the best that I possibly can.
With limited time, Ali wasn’t going to waste a minute. “I decided not to spend whatever time I had left (whether it’s a year, a month, another ten years—you don’t know until you’re gone) lamenting all the things that weren’t right,” she wrote in her final essay in Bon Appetit. “Instead, I’d make the most of it. I’m using cancer as the excuse I needed to actually go and get things done, and the more people I share those thoughts with, the more I hold myself to them. If I write this intention down, if I have it printed somewhere like I do here, I have to hold myself responsible, because I have people counting on me.”
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