Top Chef’s Fatima Ali Has a Year Left to Live, And Her Inspiring Story Is a Wake-Up Call for The Rest of Us!
From serious troubles, like salary coming in late, water shortage, load shedding, inflation, to trivial concerns, like not being able to travel for leisure, having insufficient savings to buy a latest gadget, our everyday lives are full of complaints and ignorance of the bountiful things we should be grateful for.
But recently, we were all given a strong reality check when we saw a special guest at Ellen DeGeneres’ show. Fatima Ali is a former season 15 Top Chef: Colorado contestant who was voted the fan favourite among her team of contestants.
And although she did not win, the fact that she went this far in the culinary competition speaks volumes of her credentials.
But interestingly, or rather sadly, the New York-based chef was invited on the show to talk about her untiring battle with cancer. Fatima originally hails from Pakistan. She begged her parents to let her move to New York where she could attend culinary school to refine her cooking skills. She arrived at the Big Apple at the age of 18. Fatima exited the cooking competition after securing an impressive top seventh place.
She was popularly known to showcase diverse elements of Pakistani cuisine in her food. In Top Chef, she would often infuse striking flavours and spices from her homeland.
Shortly after leaving the show, Fatima Ali was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma, a type of cancer that affects the soft tissues around bones. However, the disease went into remission after chemotherapy. Eventually, the 29-year-old was even declared “cancer-free”. But things soon took a shocking turn when she started feeling pain in her left hip last year. She says she had a bad feeling about it and alas, her fears were confirmed.
“My doctors sat us down and they were like, ‘Look the cancer is back, it’s metastasized. The chemo has not worked,’” Fatima recalled at the show. “I looked at my doctor and I was like, ‘Tell me straight. How long do I have? He was like, ‘A year’.”
What’s amazing is this young woman’s response in the face of a terminally ill disease. “It’s crazy, but that’s life.” Fatima said talking to Ellen about hearing the news none of us could wish on our worst enemy. She had always hoped to open her restaurant one day and follow the lifelong dream of becoming a restaurateur. “I am so lucky to be able to still do what I love despite my illness. I can’t WAIT till my treatment is over so I can open my own restaurant in beautiful California and show the world all the beautiful food of Pakistan,” said Fatima, when her cancer went into remission for the first time. She is still as full of hopes and plans.
Naturally, with no time to waste now, the brave woman is sketching a plan to embark on the culinary experience of a lifetime. She has marked out a bucket list of things she wants to do and plans to live her remaining life to the fullest. The top of her list remains eating at the world’s top rated restaurant, Copenhagen’s Noma. The diner’s chef Rene Redzepi responded to Fatima personally on her wish to make sure it is granted soon.
“I want to go to Italy, France, Spain, go to South Africa and go on a safari – so many things I want to do,” the inspirational chef shared that she struck one thing off that list when she finally met Ellen.
Fatima also said that watching the comedian’s show is what made her time receiving chemo easier on her.
Of course, Ellen wasn’t going to send her new “best friend” away just like that. She gifted Fatima a USD $50,000 cheque to help check things off her list quickly and comfortably. Top Chef contestants have also started a GoFundMe page to collect donations (around USD $70,000 so far) for medical and travel expenses. Fatima’s friends from East Coast pay regular visits to her at the Sloane Kettering Cancer Center in New York. “I’m so looking forward to this next year because I’m surrounded with so much positivity,’ an ecstatic Fatima told Ellen during the segment.
Fatima has refused to let her situation define the rest of her life and is only concerned about doing things that she loves.
Her sense of humour on certain things is specially astounding. “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,” she says.
Instead of focusing on the cancer, she is letting her guard down to enjoy life. Fatima called a local hair stylist to come to her hospital room to dye half her hair platinum blonde and buzz the rest.
Even during this time, when most of us would just think of ourselves, the fighter in her is thinking about giving back to society. Fatima will donate leftover funds from her fund-raising drives to the Sarcoma Foundation. Even though she is a Pakistani, Fatima’s demeanour is anything but representative of her culture where patients rarely talk about a fatal illness. Instead, Fatima is out there every day, on social media and television, to stay connected with her well-wishers and spread awareness about her condition. There is much to learn for the world from her outlook. The chef’s state of utmost positivity and gratitude puts many of us to shame and forces us to introspect and get a fresh, more optimistic perspective on life.