(NEW YORK) — You may know Fatima Ali from her time on “Top Chef,” but after a candid, witty and heartbreaking essay she recently penned for Bon Appetit, you’ll quickly realize that the best way to describe this New York City chef isn’t as a TV star, but with words like courage and bravery.
In a remarkable, moving essay for the site, Ali reveals that a rare form of cancer she dealt with last year has returned “with a vengeance” and that she has just about a year to live.
But this terminal diagnosis isn’t going to stop the 29-year-old from living out her final days in style or sharing them with the ones she loves.
As her essay opens with an anecdote about flying first class, Ali admits that the diagnosis has “forced me to upgrade my life” and that though, “I was looking forward to being 30, flirty and thriving,” she’ll instead settle on stepping “it up on the flirting. I have no time to lose.”
“It’s funny, isn’t it?” she writes. “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,” she continues. “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.”
It’s really incredible how Ali is able to keep her humor and wit, even as her body fails her. She next admits that she DM-ed a restaurant and even used her “illness as a tactic” in order to get a reservation.
“I’m floored when I receive a reply from chef Rene Redzepi himself. Turns out that people respond when you tell them you’re dying of cancer,” she quips.
“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.”
But the young chef is also able to make sure to include the more heartbreaking aspects of what’s to come like the napkin she keeps in her wallet, the one with names written on it for people she plans to reach out and make amends to.
“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,” she writes.
And even as she’s enjoying “knowing that I can finally live for myself, even if it’s just for a few more precious months,” she admits that she’s scared of what’s to come.
“I suspect I won’t last very long,” she adds. “There’s a faint feeling deep inside my gut like a rumble of passing air, ever expanding and filling slowly until, one day, I’ll pop.”
Until that time comes, much like her first-class foray and her direct messages to elite restaurants, Ali is going to use each day she has left to “experience something new.”
“I was always deathly afraid of being average in any way, and now I desperately wish to have a simple, uneventful life,” she closes.
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