If you were told that you had only one year left in this world, it would be absolutely devastating. It would take a long time to get over this massive shock and to let reality sink in. When Fatima Ali, a rising star in the culinary world, was told the same thing, she wasted no time in deciding how she wanted to spend the rest of her time.
Her Instagram bio says, “Chef/Bawarchi”, but she is so much more than that. Even while fighting terminal cancer, Fatima has become an inspiration for the world. Fatima moved to the US from Pakistan when she was only 18 to pursue her culinary dream. After convincing her parents that this was the right move for her, Fatima joined the prestigious Culinary Institute of America. Fatima’s mother had allowed her to move overseas on one condition – that she had to become the best in her field. Determined to achieve that goal, Fatima joined a renowned group of restaurants in New York City and moved up the ranks quickly.
For a chef who was so talented and so young, a celebrity status could not have eluded Fatima for too long. She became the first Pakistani woman to win on Chopped, a competitive cooking show on the Food Network. Fatima also participated in Top Chef Season 15 and won the title of Top Chef Fan Favourite.
She was diagnosed with cancer in 2017
Fatima Ali had dreams of opening her own restaurant when she got the news that would turn her life upside down. In 2017, only a few months after filming Top Chef, Fatima was diagnosed with a rare, bone and soft tissue cancer called Ewing’s Sarcoma. She was only 28 years old at the time.
“When I was diagnosed, it was obviously incredibly jarring,” Fatima said on The Ellen Show. “It was the biggest shock of my life but I knew that the only way I could beat this was with positivity and rallying people around me, and to keep moving, keep plowing through every obstacle that came my way.”
Not only is Fatima proving to be an inspiration of strength, she is also the perfect example of how humour can help you through the worst times. When she appeared on The Ellen Show, she showed off her incredible sense of humour with ease while explaining her cancer.
A year to live
In July 2018, Fatima says she was technically cancer-free but she developed an ache in her hip. Soon after, a PET scan revealed what she had been dreading.
“My doctor sat us down and said the cancer’s back, it’s metastasized. The chemo had not worked,” Fatima says. “I looked at my doctor and said tell me straight, how long do I have? And he’s like a year.”
In a piece she wrote for Bon Appetit, Fatima says, “I was looking forward to being 30, flirty, and thriving. Guess I have to step it up on the flirting. I have no time to lose.”
Fatima is now determined to not waste any of her precious time. Being a true blue chef, she is now on a world tour, eating at every restaurant she has admired and seeing the places she has always wanted to see. As Ellen DeGeneres says, she’s “living like all of us should”.
Living life to the fullest
“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,” Fatima writes. She is also using this time to “make amends” with people from her past, something that frightens the bravest of us.
“In my wallet, I keep a crumpled cocktail napkin with a list of names scrawled on it. They’re people I need to make amends to before I go,” she writes. “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.”
Fatima’s friends have started a GoFundMe page to help her fulfil her dreams of travelling. “Fati will receive 100% of money raised,” the page says. “Any money she does not use will be donated to the Sarcoma Foundation of America to help find a cure for this rare cancer.”
For now, Fatima is focused on her culinary adventures to Europe, South America, and many more places across the world. She is also part of a documentary series titled Her Name Is Chef, which features women chefs in different stages of their careers.
“I’m so looking forward to this next year because I’m surrounded with so much positivity. I’m so lucky to have friends and family like I do,” Fatima says. “We are going to be taking a tour of the entire world, eating all this absolutely delicious food. I know that’s the only way to get through this.”
More power to you, Fatima!