Loss of taste: Chef battles tongue cancer

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Cooking in Scott Adair's blood.  He's like a one-man Food Appreciation Club.

"I love Asian food, I love that kind of stuff. I was brought up on southern food," says chef Adair.

But the former Atlanta restaurant owner, turned Corporate Executive Chef for Superb Farms, almost lost all of this --- a couple of years ago.

It was February of 2014, the father of two had lump in his neck,

"I thought maybe had a swollen lymph node," says Adair

Struggling to breathe, Adair ended up in an Asheville, North Carolina ER.

"Well, I sat there for hours and I was like, "Hey, what's the deal here?" And he said, 'I just want to tell you you have a major mass in your neck, which is cancer.' That what like, whoa!  I was blown away!"

Adair had tongue cancer. And the news got worse. A head and neck surgeon recommended one operation to remove his tongue, another to take out part of his jaw.

"And I left there just devastated.  Because I was, like, 'Oh, my gosh. I'm done!"

The surgery -- would end his career.

"This is crazy, because this is my life. And to not be able to taste?  And if I was going to lose my tongue?  The irony was huge."

Terrified, and looking for a second opinion, Adair came to see Mark El-Deiry, Director of Head and Neck Surgery at Emory's Winship Cancer Institute.

"As soon as I got there, and he started talking to me, it was a like a huge relief. A weight taken off me."

Because Dr. El-Deiry felt Adair didn't need surgery. He needed chemotherapy and radiation.

"I think he was incredibly relieved to find out that, in all probability,  he had a very high chance of surviving this, using standard of care therapy," says Dr. El-Deiry.

Adair started with chemotherapy.  Radiation El-Deiry warned him would be tougher.

"He said, 'You're going to lose your taste buds,'" points our Adair.

Adair did, for about eight months,

"Each one of the taste buds came back at a different time. Salt came back, then sour came back, bitter came back."

Dr.  El-Deiry monitored Adair's progress closely.

"I always kind of based his recovery on whether he was doing his wine pairings. So when he started telling me he could do his wine pairings, I started feeling pretty good about how he was doing,"

says Dr. El-Diery.

Sweetness came back last.

"One day I ate, I was like, "I'm going to try some chocolate" And it was so sweet. It was right there on the end of my tongue and I was like, yes! It's back!"

A year and a half out, Dr. El-Diery is optimistic about Adair's health.

"He is doing very well.  He has no evidence of disease in his head and neck."

And life, for this chef, is sweeter than ever.