As a cast member on the television series “America’s Test Kitchen,” and host of its companion podcast “The Walk-In,” Elle Simone Scott delights in sharing her expertise and recipes. The Boston-based celebrity chef and food stylist is also a role model, as founder and president of SheChef, Inc., a professional networking organization for fellow women chefs of color seeking success in the food and beverage, media, and hospitality industries.
Now there is yet another area in which Scott, 46, is determined to lead. First diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2016, she has emerged as an advocate for others living with the disease. Scott speaks on-air and off about the importance of exercise and a healthy diet, and despite a 2020 recurrence of her disease, is maintaining a measuring cup-half-full attitude.
“I’m not an ovarian cancer survivor, I’m a thriver,” says Scott. “Every day has its challenges, and some are much tougher than others, but overall my life is good because of the steps I’ve taken to live within the boundaries of cancer. My goal is to help other women do the same, and to recognize the warning signs earlier than I did.”
Scott is especially aiming her message at women of color, who due to health and socioeconomic inequities have traditionally had less access to gynecologic cancer prevention and care. Among those she is partnering with in these efforts is her clinical team in the Gynecologic Oncology Program at Dana-Farber Brigham Cancer Center, located just a few miles from the America’s Test Kitchen studio in Boston.
Blindsided, then embraced
A Detroit native, Scott was raised in a family of passionate cooks. She helped out her grandmother, mother, and aunts in the kitchen from an early age, and got her first job at 15 as a server at a local restaurant. After an internship at the Food Network, Scott found she gravitated toward the creative aspects of culinary preparation — including designing and decorating sets as a food stylist — more than working in a commercial kitchen.
She earned a degree in entertainment business, then spent more than a decade building up her credentials as a freelance food stylist and culinary producer while living in Brooklyn. During the tail end of this period, in the mid-2010s, Scott began experiencing pelvic pain that grew progressively worse.
“It wasn’t quite taking over my life, but it was persistent,” recalls Scott. “The OB/GYN I went to was noted to be one of the best in New York, but even after an ultrasound revealed a ‘little something’ on my right ovary, she downplayed my concerns and said to wait and revisit things in six months to a year.”
Scott’s grandmother, an OB/GYN nurse. had taught her to seek answers when something didn’t feel right with her body. So shortly after securing her spot on “America’s Test Kitchen” and moving to Boston for the show, Scott found a new doctor — who recommended another ultrasound.
The September 2016 imaging exam revealed a cyst with cancerous characteristics in Scott’s right ovary, shocking the 39-year-old rising star.
“There was cancer in my family, but never anything connected to this,” says Scott. “I didn’t even know you could get cancer in your ovaries. I was completely clueless.”
Her doctor referred Scott to Dana-Farber Brigham, and within two weeks she was meeting with surgeon Michael Muto, MD. Diagnosed with stage I ovarian cancer, Scott would need surgery to remove her right ovary and fallopian tubes, along with chemotherapy.
New to Boston, with no close friends or loved ones nearby, she gained reassurance from her surgical and clinical teams as well as her new colleagues — who rallied around Scott by taking turns delivering meals to her home and rides to treatment. Despite feeling blindsided, she felt serendipitous about the timing.
“The kindness with which Dr. Muto and his team approached me and my situation was extremely comforting,” says Scott. “They were very patient, answered all my questions, and welcomed whichever coworker came with me to my appointments. Even though I was nervous about the information and frightened about the outcome, there was also a lot of calmness. I was in the exact right place, with access to the world’s best care.”
Recurrence and resilience
As for her very public job, Scott learned to pace herself and take time off on days she felt most tired in between chemotherapy sessions. She took care of thinning eyebrows and hair with makeup and scarves, and added more healthy items to her own diet as she helped viewers with theirs. Her clinical team, which grew to include oncologist Panos Konstantinopoulos, MD, PhD, and clinical nurse practitioner Susanne Menon, NP, MSN, continued making her feel more like a colleague than a patient.
At the time, Scott didn’t speak very publicly about her cancer — which with treatment went into remission for nearly five years. When it came back in 2020, this time as recurrent ovarian cancer in her bowel and lower bladder that required more surgery and chemotherapy, she felt the time was right. She began sharing her story in and outside Dana-Farber Brigham, and joined the board of the Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance.
These days, an immunotherapy clinical trial has slowed her cancer’s progression. The trial combines the immunotherapy drug nivolumab (which helps activate the body’s own immune response against cancer) with two other drugs which are FDA-approved for recurrent ovarian cancer: bevacizumab and rucaparib. The increased availability of trials such as this one are allowing patients to maintain a longer and stronger quality of life.
In Scott’s case, that means more time to dish out advice — on and off the air.
“What I appreciate most about Elle is her resilience,” says Menon. “It takes an incredible amount of fortitude to put yourself out there in the world when you are living with cancer. She has the same unknown prognosis and the same side effects from her treatment as everyone else. Elle’s choices can be deeply inspiring to others, not only others living with cancer, but those living with chronic illnesses or other medical adversities who can see someone choosing to live a fulfilling life and follow her dreams while undergoing active treatment.”