The Pakistani Top Chef Who Has One Year To Live

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Fatima left Pakistan at age 18 to become a chef, eventually going on to become a fan favourite contestant on the highly rated TV Show ‘Top Chef.’ She’s always had big dreams. To see the world, to eat great food, and to open up a fantastic restaurant somewhere in California, with a menu rooted in Pakistani flavours.

Unfortunately, as the saying goes, the best-laid plans often go awry. Fatima or ‘Fati’ as her friends affectionately call her (a group which now includes Ellen Degeneres) was diagnosed with Ewings Sarcoma this January. It’s a rare form of cancer which grows in the bones or the soft tissue around the bones. Following this discovery, she underwent months of treatment and surgery in her shoulder bone to remove the cancerous tumour. This technically left her ‘cancer free’ back in July, until as fate would have it, they discovered the cancer had returned and metastasised in her left hip and femur bone. Her Oncologist gave her an approximate of one year to live, with or without chemotherapy. 

So. What do you do when you’re told you have one year left to live?

Fatima penned a deeply emotional piece trying to answer this exact question; sketching out exactly what she wanted to do with her remaining time.

She said, “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.”

She’s made an “ever-growing” list of the worlds best restaurants to visit. Best of all, she’s got a coterie of loving and supportive friends and family to take with her. At only 29 years old, Ali has been forced to face some of life’s biggest existential questions: about self, about the world, and about time – the biggest luxury of all.

We prioritise our time based on our needs and responsibilities on a daily basis, but what we can learn from Fatima’s illness is how rarely we think to include ourselves in that equation. How often do we make unadulterated, uncensored decisions for ourselves? Our lives often become construction sites where work is being done for the future. Until we can retire, save up just enough, or wait for the kids to go off to college. There’s always something next.

What about the now though? We challenge you all to try and live a little more recklessly, and wholeheartedly, in the days we have — no matter what that finite number might be.

Who are the people you love?

What are the things you have been putting off?

How can you be kinder?

What is left to learn? (There’s always something in this large, large world)

Take a minute to think about these questions, and answer them throughout the day as you make your way around. Then answer them again tomorrow, and again the next day. 

If you feel inspired by Fatima Ali’s brave story and would like to contribute, her family and friends have set up a GoFundMe page for any travel expenses she may incur on her jaunt around the globe. Whatever is unable to be used will be donated to cancer research.

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