Fatima Ali sadly passed away on January 25 after a battle with Ewing's sarcoma, a type of bone and soft tissue cancer. In her final essay written before her death, which was published on Bon Appétit's website on the day of her passing, Bravo's Top Chef Season 15's Fan Favorite winner reflected on her life, from when she first realized her passion for cooking to the moment she was first diagnosed with cancer after filming Top Chef in Colorado in 2017 to how she lived out her last few months after doctors had given her one year to live.
But even as Fatima faced death, she was still able to put things in perspective. Fatima recalled in the essay how after she dyed her hair platinum blonde following her terminal cancer diagnosis in the fall of 2018, her hair fell out after she did one last round of chemotherapy. "That sucked, but I was like, 'You know what? Stop feeling sorry for yourself,'" she wrote. "I‘ve been to hospitals in New York and I‘ve been to hospitals in L.A., and when you‘re around that much sickness, and you see people from all sorts of backgrounds, all sorts of ages, in all stages of disease — it really gives you perspective. Because even now, it could be so much worse than it is. I‘m still very lucky to be able to do a lot of the things that I love."
And so Fatima was determined to continue to live life to the fullest. "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. Instead, I’d make the most of it," she shared. "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."
Fatima set out to accomplish as many of her remaining goals as she could in the time she had left. "What is my intention? To live my life. To fulfill all those genuine dreams I have. It’s easy to spend weeks in my pajamas, curled up in my bed, watching Gossip Girl on Netflix. I could totally do that. And don’t get me wrong, I still watch Gossip Girl. But now I’m doing things," she said. "I’m going out to eat. I’m making plans for vacations. I’m finding experimental treatments. I’m cooking. I’m writing."
She pointed out that her life as a chef may have helped her cope with her own mortality. "My brother and I were talking the other day and he made an interesting point. He was like, 'As chefs, you guys deal with death every day.' And he’s right," she shared. "When you’re a chef, you understand the circle of life. We're butchering rabbits, whole hogs, and baby lambs; we’re filleting fish and cleaning shrimp. All these things have died for us. I suppose you have to see it as the natural progress of life. Perhaps I've had to face it a little bit sooner than expected, but it's not an unfamiliar feeling."
Fatima concluded the essay with some final inspiring words for all of us to live by. "There are days that I'm exceptionally afraid. There are days I sit alone and cry, because I don't want to do it in front of my family. And there are other days that we all sit down and cry together, because it is such a scary thing," she wrote. "But at the same time, you can't let that fear cripple you. It's harder being miserable than it is to be happy."
Tributes have poured in for Fatima since her passing last week, from her fellow Top Chef Season 15 contestants to Padma Lakshmi to Ellen DeGeneres, underscoring how much of an inspiration she was and will continue to be to us all.
If you would like to donate to the Sarcoma Foundation of America, visit curesarcoma.org.
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