Fatima Ali was a contestant on Bravo’s ‘Top Chef’ during its 15th season.
According to Bravo, while Ali finished in seventh place that year, she was voted “Fan Favorite,” which earned her a rather large following on social media.
Sadly, shortly after she left the show, Ali was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer known as Ewing’s sarcoma, which affects the bones and soft tissue.
She recalled the dull, yet nagging, shoulder pain that continued to get worse. This is what led to her first diagnosis.
Ali went public with her diagnosis at the end of 2017 and underwent surgery while enduring rounds of chemotherapy in January 2018. As Bravo reports, just over a month later, doctors told Ali she was cancer-free.
Then in October 2018, Ali announced that her cancer had returned. She was told she had about a year to live.
The 29-year-old decided that she would spend the time she had left eating at her favorite restaurants and writing a book.
On January 10, 2019, Ali took to Instagram to give a heartbreaking update on her health.
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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.
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.
Fifteen days later, on January 25, Ali passed away.
Her family shared a final message with her fans on Instagram, along with a collage of photos showing Ali over the last 29 years.
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Fatima was at home with us, surrounded by her loved ones and beloved cat Mr. Meow, when she left us in the early hours of the morning. When someone as bright and young and vivacious as our Fati passes, the only metaphor that seems to fit is that of a star—a beacon in the darkness, a light that guides us, on which to make wishes, from which to weave dreams. For all the comfort and beauty they offer us, stars, too, are impermanent. This morning a great one was snuffed out. Though she’s no longer here with us, her spirit will continue to steer us. We hope that you, too, will listen to her lessons: Live your life as she did—to the fullest. Pursue your passion; spread love and joy; be kind and forgiving; be generous; enjoy every morsel—from humble street food to decadent fine dining; cook for the people you love. Travel the world and seek out adventure. Help others and don’t be afraid to take the road less taken. Fatima will always be a part of us, and in fact if you look deep enough, you may find your own inner Fati. If you’re lucky enough to find her there, trust her, listen to her, because she will change your life for the better. We’ve learned a great deal over the course of her illness, not only pragmatic lessons we wish we hadn’t needed to learn about her disease and our health system, but about the immense love of which people are capable; about the power of being true to yourself; about how we can be better if we model ourselves after someone like her. We want to thank everyone from the bottom of our now broken hearts. We’re eternally grateful for the unending support, love, and generosity shown by people along the way—from random strangers we passed on the street who would tell her how much they admire and respect her; to all her doctors and nurses who did their best; the chefs and hospitality friends who are now part of our extended family; and the big wigs that reached out to see how they can make her dreams a reality. This has been a truly humbling experience for us all and even in her last chapter as she began to leave us, Fatima showed us how we should live.
But the words that have really grabbed the public’s attention are the ones Ali wrote herself just three months before her passing.
They were published in Bon Appetit magazine following her death. An excerpt from her essay reads as follows:
When I got diagnosed with a rare form of cancer called Ewings Sarcoma, I had just finished filming Top Chef in Colorado. It was 2017 and I was working at the U.S. Open with my friend Joe Flamm, who was the winner and had opened up a pop-up restaurant there. I’d had this weird ache in my shoulder for the past couple of months that I’d been ignoring. You know, popping a couple of Advils, going to sleep. But one day, in the middle of lunch, my shoulder swelled up and the pain was mounting literally by the minute. I had to go to the emergency room.
They gave me an MRI literally within 20 minutes of seeing me, because I was in so much pain. I remember the doctor was exceptionally handsome. I remember standing over there crying my eyes out and this guy could be on a runway. He calls me on my cell phone and I’m thinking, “Ooh, this hot doctor’s asking me out.” But instead he says, “I want to refer you to an oncologist.” That was just the beginning. They didn’t discharge me from my first hospital admission for three weeks.
Honestly, until your first chemo cycle, I don’t think it really hits you. Then your hair starts falling out, and finally you’re like, “This is actually happening. This is the rest of my life.” I did eight rounds of chemo. It was horrible, but at the end, my scans were all clear. I thought I’d beaten it. Then it came back. Worse than before. It was metastatic. It had spread to my lungs. The doctors told me I had a year to live.
It was then that Ali said she stopped feeling sorry for herself and decided to take what time she had left to really live her life.
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. 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.
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. I’m going out to eat. I’m making plans for vacations. I’m finding experimental treatments. I’m cooking. I’m writing.
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. But at the same time, you can’t let that fear cripple you. It’s harder being miserable than it is to be happy.
Our thoughts and prayers are with Ali’s family as they navigate through this difficult time.