Fatima Ali shocked her fans when she announced on Tuesday, Oct. 9 that she had been diagnosed with terminal cancer and given just one year to live.
Ali, 29, was the season 15 fan favorite on Bravo’s Top Chef. She was diagnosed with Ewing’s sarcoma — a very rare form of bone cancer — in October 2017.
According to Us Weekly her prognosis seemed good until she relapsed after four rounds of chemotherapy in January.
“The cancer cells my doctors believed had vanished are back with a vengeance in my left hip and femur bone,” she wrote in a blog post on Bon Appetit’s Healthyish.
Us magazine spoke to Dr. Will Eward, MD, DVM, Orthopedic Oncologist at the Duke Cancer Institute to find out more about Ewing’s sarcoma.
Emphasizing it’s low rate of occurrence, Dr. Eward, who has not treated Ali, said Ewing’s sarcoma is less than 1 percent of all the different types of sarcomas.
He said Ewing’s is a cancer of childhood and early adulthood. The prognosis is very poor but patients can be saved if it is detected early.
Unfortunately, Ewing’s sarcoma is often misdiagnosed as a sprain or something else minor. By the time the cancer is diagnosed it is too late.
Dr. Eward says people who present with just one spot of cancer on their skeleton are better off than people who are diagnosed when the sarcoma has spread (metastasized).
“In that case, the course of treatment is typically chemotherapy as well as “something that controls the primary tumor,” says Eward. “For most sarcomas the way you have to control the primary tumor is to cut it out of the body. Patients pay a price but they can be saved,” he said.
“The problem is that once it spreads to your lungs, then it’s essentially not curable.”
The Mayo Clinic notes that there is no environmental or lifestyle links to Ewing’s sarcoma. “We’ve never found anything you can eat, drink, smoke or be exposed to that causes you to get it.”
Dr. Eward said Ewing’s sarcoma “is unusual in that it does give you these symptoms of fatigue and of malaise (generalized weakness) of just not feeling well.”
He said other symptoms include bone pain which is an early indicator.
“If you have bone pain and you haven’t had an injury, and it doesn’t go away, see your doctor and get it worked up,” he said. “Get some X-rays, find out what’s going on. Is it likely that you’re going to have Ewing’s sarcoma? No. But a lot of the people we see with Ewing’s sarcoma, it’s a delayed diagnosis. They’ve been told, ‘Oh you just have a sprain or you just have a bruise.'”
Eward said there is no precancerous screening test for Ewing’s. “Once you have it, you have it. Once you have symptoms, you have it.”
The MD said when the cancer comes back after relapsing — such as in Ali’s case, the chances are that the cancer never fully left. “It’s a little hard to wrap your head around, but what most of us think is happening is that, in a case like Fatima’s, it probably had already spread but it wasn’t detectable,” he said.
He said that even in Ali’s case, there is still hope.
“I really don’t think oncologists should be in the business of telling people how long they have to live. Because you don’t really know until you see how the cancer responds to the treatment you hit it with. So I think Fatima, from what little I know about her case, she could go on some different, what’s called rescue chemotherapy and she could have a really good response.”
Since Ali announced her terminal illness, there has been an outpouring of sympathy. Celebrities such as Padma Lakshmi (pictured below left) visited Ali in the hospital.
“Since her diagnosis I have been fortunate enough to get to know her deeper and in a new light,” Lakshmi wrote in an Instagram post last week.
She added: “I can tell you that in these months I have not only seen her continue to find her voice, but been inspired by her exponentially.”
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Dear friends, I have seen @cheffati grow and blossom every day I walked into the @bravotopchef kitchen. I have seen Fatima’s ambition sharpen over weeks of competition, seen her soar along with all of you. Most of you will read Fatima’s writing for the first time in this @bonappetit piece. Since her diagnosis I have been fortunate enough to get to know her deeper and in a new light. Over these months, I have come to know her family. Her mother has shown me her older writing which is just as poignant. I am pleased to share my friend’s story with you all today. I am so proud of her. I can tell you that in these months I have not only seen her continue to find her voice, but been inspired by her exponentially. I have gotten to know most of her family and in them I see my own. I was in the hospital with her the morning she had surgery months ago and witnessed her courage. The day after my @nytimes piece came out, I went to see her, and she cheered me on by holding my hand from the hospital bed, assuring me I had not flayed myself in vain. I was with her last night as she went in for radiation and she still turned back to smile at her mother and me when the nurse with the wheelchair came. I hope that this year brings her as much as she can hope for. You’ve said on the show that growing up I inspired you. But Fati, now, it’s you who inspire me. Everyday. I love you Fati. Link in bio. #teamfati
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