Emory University | Woodruff Health Sciences Center
Bookmark and Share

Salty, Sour, Bitter, Sweet Success

After cancer, chef will never again take his taste buds for granted

By Martha McKenzie

Story Photo

Three years ago, Scott Adair began having trouble breathing and swallowing.

He went to a hospital near his Asheville, N.C., home, expecting to get a prescription for antibiotics. Instead he got a devastating diagnosis—tongue cancer. And the news got even worse. The doctors said he needed surgery to remove his jaw bone and his tongue.

"I'm a chef!" says Adair, corporate executive chef of SupHerb Farms. "If I lost my tongue, I'd lose my career."

Adair's father had been treated successfully for cancer at Emory's Winship Cancer Institute, so he wasted little time getting to Atlanta—where he grew up and opened his first restaurant—for a second opinion. The drive was well worth it.

Mark El-Deiry, the head and neck surgeon who saw Adair, told him he did not, in fact, need surgery. Instead, he recommended chemotherapy and radiation. However, El-Deiry added that chemotherapy would cause Adair to lose his taste buds for up to a year and they might not come back 100%.

"I was thrilled to not have to have the surgery, but it was still pretty scary to lose my taste buds," says Adair. "I went back to work without all my taste buds, so I just had to rely on my experience."

Adair has made a full recovery. Each type of taste bud came back at a different time. Salt came back first, then sour, then bitter, and finally, sweet.

 Not only did his sense of taste make a complete recovery, it came back better than ever. "That may be because I am so much more conscious of my taste now," says Adair. "Before, it was just something I took for granted. But when you lose your ability to taste and then get it back, you are much more aware of each taste, each flavor. Everything is so much more pronounced now."

Email the editor