the story

A 19-year-old girl receives a terminal cancer prognosis. 3 months. Despite her doctors saying her only chance is a miracle, she decides to fight for her life. She bravely faces terrifying medical treatments, passes in and out of consciousness, and loses the control she once had. Afraid she won't make it to the end of her treatment cycle, all she has left is hope. And at the end of her long journey, there's a glimmer of light.

the music

Spencer's 2016 chamber piece for string quartet, piano, harp, and audio track accompanies the pre-recorded narration of a real, 19-year-old woman battling terminal cancer. Her story is supported by an intimate score full of hope, pain, and resilience - the musical instruments dance with each other and with her voice, sound effects from medical equipment interject and become one with the musical instruments - but all the sounds seem equally driven onward, fighting for life, aware that at any moment the cycle could just stop.

the film

Working from spring 2017 through late winter 2018, Spencer revisited Cancer Cycle in the form of a short film that visually conveys the piece's narrative elements using various stages of the water cycle. He filmed scenes at his family lake cabin in Spooner, Wisconsin; in his granddad's basement in Dublin, Ohio; and out the windows of airplanes flying over the Midwest. The resulting film pairs musical themes of beauty, life, and death with visuals depicting vast natural lakes/landscapes, as well as intimate colored oils in water.


A recording of Cancer Cycle was presented in conjunction with Vanderbilt Theater Lab’s original theater piece Mass Cycle: A Meditation on Cancer March 25 and 26, 2016 at Vanderbilt University. Cancer Cycle was also performed live in conjunction with Interlochen Arts Academy's productions of Mass Cycle April 30 and May 25, 2016. The Cancer Cycle music alone was performed in concert at Interlochen April 16 and May 25. The score and parts are currently available for purchase and performance licensing here.


“Absolutely breathtaking, heart-wrenching, powerful…this is one of the most moving, beautiful pieces I’ve ever listened to and will, no doubt, remain with me forever.”
“I was humbled and moved…those moments when you really see art marry life in an exquisitely innovative and true way are so rare. I feel emotionally raw right now.”
“I have never been affected so deeply…[it] made me physically visualize and feel as though I was in a machine in a hospital, and I’ve never even been a patient.”