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Fatima Ali in Posthumous Essay: ‘I’m Using Cancer as the Excuse I Needed to Actually Go and Get Things Done’

Fatima Ali in Posthumous Essay
Tommy Garcia/Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images

Top Chef alum Fatima Ali penned an emotional essay for Bon Appétit three months prior to her death from Ewing’s sarcoma in which she shared her first-hand experience with the disease.

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The magazine posthumously published the article just two days after it was revealed that Ali had lost her battle with cancer on Friday, January 25, at age 29, with the magazine’s editor’s noting that they were “running it early to share her perspective and honor her memory.”

The former reality star began the essay by recalling her youth in Pakistan, which fueled her desire to become a chef. Ali went on to describe her hectic first few years in the culinary world before delving into her diagnosis.

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“Honestly, until your first chemo cycle, I don’t think it really hits you,” Ali wrote. “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.”

Ali went on to detail the things she committed herself to doing when she was given the news of her terminal illness.

“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,” she explained. “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.”

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Ali continued: “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.”

Ali noted that she and her brother had “challenged ourselves to write a recipe a day — spaghetti; braised lamb with Pakistani spices and root vegetables; comfort food,” adding that every day she comes “up with a recipe I’ve never made before, write it down in a notebook, make a little drawing of it, go shopping for those ingredients, and cook it.”

“My brother wants to compile them all,” Ali wrote. “He’ll turn them into something one day.”

The Chopped winner concluded her essay on a very emotional note. “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,” Ali wrote. “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.”

Ali was first diagnosed in 2017 and announced she was cancer-free in February 2018. Later that year, she revealed that her cancer had returned.

“The cancer cells my doctors believed had vanished are back with a vengeance in my left hip and femur bone,” she wrote in an essay in Bon Appétit’s Healthyish at the time. “My oncologist has told me that I have a year to live, with or without the new chemotherapy regimen. 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.”

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