‘Top Chef’ contestant Fatima Ali and her doctors thought her cancer had vanished. Then she was told she had a year to live.
Sitting in the airport lounge, I can feel her gaze locked on the back of my head before I see her. Her brows furrowed under dark bangs, small fists curled up around the sides of her princess dress. She stares at me, eyes full of curiosity and confusion. She senses that something is not quite right. It’s not just the baldness that gives it away or the sallow skin or baggy clothes. A cloud of death is following me. It’s followed me all the way to the first class lounge at LAX. I have never flown anything but basic economy on a domestic flight, but my illness has forced me to upgrade my life.
The cancer cells my doctors believed had vanished are back with a vengeance in my left hip and femur bone. 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.
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.
I hate to use my illness as a tactic, but I swallow my guilt as I slip into Noma’s DMs to see if somehow the Copenhagen restaurant can accommodate a table for two for their already booked seafood season. 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.
In my wallet, I keep a crumpled cocktail napkin with a list of names scrawled on it. They’re people I need to make amends to before I go. 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.
|Read on: Chef Fatima Ali on Having Terminal Cancer and What She's Doing With the Time She Has Left|