After living in Brooklyn, NY for two years, writing and performing music with his band (“Cactus” – eventually called “The Stevedores” as they came to learn that another band already owned the “Cactus“ name) and attending the New York Film Academy learning 3D computer animation, Spencer briefly returned home in May 2006 – just long enough to charge his batteries, deliver a few pizzas, sock away a few bucks and then join his band mates, Ben Johnson (drums), Adam Webb-Orenstein (bass), Sean Fernando (keyboards) and Jake Miller (guitar) in Madison, Wisconsin to continue their musical lives together all under one roof. It was a dream come true for Spencer and the guys.
Over the next few months the band polished their work, created new music and waited as their first planned CD (Tamuawok) was in the final mixing stages before release. The plan was to begin work on a second album in their basement while playing gigs around the area and selling their CD to fans at those venues.
Everything seemed to be coming together when, in November, Spencer began to have some stomach pain and associative symptoms. Not overly concerned, Spencer sought the normal remedies until he decided to ask a doctor for some advice. The doctor (quite naturally) suggested Prilosec, a healthier diet and lots of water. After all, a twenty year old with stomach aches isn’t at all unusual.
Undeterred by his growing discomfort, Spencer began planning a Thanksgiving feast for his friends. He’d even managed to go the grocery store and purchase the necessary turkey and fixings. In addition to a few close friends for Thanksgiving Dinner, his brother Brady was planning a visit for the Holiday weekend.
Brady relates that when his brother went to pick him up at the airport Thanksgiving Eve, Spencer was in some pain and easily out of breath – pausing for a few minutes after giving Brady a hug, Spencer needed to sit and rest. Over the course of the evening at “The Cactus House” Spencer mainly sat as comfortably as possible in a bean bag chair visiting with Brady and friends. It was too painful to move around unnecessarily.
The next morning, however, Spencer was in a nearly impossible state of pain and discomfort. Brady helped convince him that they needed to seek medical attention and went to the Emergency Room at the University of Wisconsin Medical Center.
Based on Spencer’s symptoms, the attending doctor opted to check Spencer for kidney stones and ordered a CT Scan which uncovered a 7.5” tumor in his abdomen area. The Doctor then delivered the news to Spencer -20 and Brady -16 that Spencer had cancer and that he needed to immediately be checked into the hospital.
Back home in Bloomfield Hills, MI, the boys’ parents were delivered the news via cell phone by two scared, yet very courageous sons all alone in the hospital on Thanksgiving Day. It’s a picture his parents will never get out of their heads.
While his parents were rushing to Madison on the next flight out of Detroit Metro, Spencer was checked into his room with Brady glued to his side. It would be several hours before their parents would arrive, but they were not alone. Spencer’s friends (surrogate family) were already there, thank God.
But what kind of cancer did Spencer have? The tumor was so large it was impossible to tell its origin without a biopsy. It covered his kidney, liver and adrenal gland area. After five painstaking days of ‘hoping’ it was kidney or even liver cancer, the worse possible news came back from pathology……adrenocortical carcinoma – - Adrenal Cancer. Moreover, it had spread from there and metastasized to his liver as well as his lungs. To complicate matters even worse, there was a tumor thrombus extending up his avenacava vein into the right atrium of his heart. Way too advanced and way too late for any kind of chemotherapy, the doctors agreed. The only hope was surgery.
Over the next few days the lead oncologist assembled his best ‘dream team’ of surgeons to analyze Spencer’s situation with the aim of executing what would be, at best, a 12-15 hour surgery to remove the pervasive cancer. In the end, though, the thorasic specialists determined that the infiltration of the cancer into Spencer’s heart was too much to overcome. At best he would never come off the respirator, at worst he wouldn’t make it out of surgery. Even specialists at the Mayo Clinic, Sloan Kettering, Beaumont Hospital and the University of Michigan Adrenal Cancer Center agreed that surgery was not an option.
Spencer, in and out of morphine-induced sleep, remained alert enough to ask the hard questions of the doctors himself. “Didn’t you tell me that surgery was the only hope? Now you say you can’t do surgery at all”? Everyone, including the doctors, stared at their feet. After asking everyone to give him some time alone, Spencer summoned his mom into his room and began making arrangements for his precious effects; his writings, his art and, of course, his musical instruments. He even provided details to her regarding his wish to be cremated and his ashes dropped to the bottom of the Pacific Ocean. Finally, he instructed his mother on what he’d like to include in his memorial service…Piñatas were a must.
Still, the oncologist recommended we at least try a chemotherapy drug called Mitotane (a derivative of DDT). However, the drug was administered once-only before it became obvious that it, too, was futile. We knew it already, but continued to hope for a miracle.
Two days later, on December 3rd, 2006 at a little after 10:00 pm, and after other friends and family had left the hospital for the evening, Spencer quietly slipped away with his parents at his side.
It had been just eleven days since Spencer and Brady first showed up at the ER hoping the doctors would be able to help him alleviate his stomach and back pain.
But what an eleven days it had been! So many mercies and angels were delivered to Spencer and his family. Family, friends, doctors, nurses and even strangers became like family in one moment in time. The sincere love and generous spirituality of so many – too many to list here – astounded Spencer’s brother and parents and help to sustain them to this day.
In addition, Spencer left dozens of completed songs and even more “works in progress” for his family, friends and even strangers by which to appreciate and remember
his gifts. Some of those are included on this website. All are being copyrighted and, hopefully, many will someday be published. They’re simply too good to be ignored.
In September 2003 Spencer, in one of his many, many journals wrote:
I’m honestly not sure where this life is going
And I just as honestly do not care
So long as I can love
And be loved
So long as I can inspire
And be inspired
So long as the sun keeps sliding through the sky,
And the rain still falls on occasion,
I’m sure that whatever supremely awaits me
And when finality brings itself to me
I will not run and vainly avoid the inevitable
I will cast my arms out and blindly
Embrace my end
Just as I have always embraced whatever
Has come with the wind
Every one of these words is true. Spencer did not worry about the future. He was a big fan of right now, this moment. He was inspired and is inspirational. He did love and is indeed, loved beyond measure.
And when the end came, he absolutely did not run. On the contrary, Spencer was our hero and our strength as he faced his own dire circumstances with uncommon courage and grace.