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Mario Spencer poses with his mother Cecelia Legister


Cancer survivor pursues dreams Mario Spencer awarded Monty Alexander Scholarship


OVER THE PAST few years Mario Spencer has faced numerous challenges but these days he has something to smile about.

He was recently awarded the Monty Alexander Scholarship through the Office of the Board for Undergraduate Studies (OBUS), which will pay his tuition for one year. Mario is currently a first-year student at The University of the West Indies, Mona, and is pursing the Bachelor of Science Degree in Entertainment and Cultural Enterprise Management. He has a passion for music and hopes to one day live his dream of becoming an established musician.

Spencer, who was facing financial challenges, said he was shocked when he received the scholarship as he had not expected it to happen within a matter of days after submitting an application. “Coming from a music school and to get the Monty Alexander Scholarship, I am extremely grateful and relieved that I am
debt-free to The University for the 2015/16 academic year,” said Spencer.

His mother Cecelia Legister was elated when she learnt that he was awarded a scholarship named after a jazz legend. “It is not only about the money, but also an honour for Mario to be linked to such a great person,” she said.

Spencer’s challenges began in October 2009. While playing football with a group of friends, he felt a sharp pain in his shin bone. After doing a number of tests, which included X-rays and a biopsy, he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma of the proximal tibia (shin bone) in January 2010. Both Mario and his mother were devastated, as he was her only child at the time. Legister was traumatised and began preparing herself mentally and physically to deal with her son’s diagnosis.

In February 2010 he was put on a regime of chemotherapy, which lasted nine months. He would go in for treatment once per month. The doctors suggested amputation to prevent the cancer from spreading, but Spencer and his mother were completely against amputation. However, in October of the same year a team of doctors suggested operating on the affected bone. His doctor suggested limb salvaging allograft, a surgical procedure which would be the first of its kind at The University Hospital of the West Indies. Three types of limb salvaging options were recommended: the first would require replacing the affected area with a piece of his thigh bone and fusing it with his shin bone. This option would leave him without a knee joint. The second option was to replace the proximal tibia with that of a cadaver bone (bone of a deceased person), and the third would require the use of a titanium tumour prosthesis. He took the second option as it was less costly.

The surgery was done in March 2011 and after a series of scans and tests, he was declared cancer-free. He was subsequently released from the hospital, but his joy was short-lived as he was hospitalised soon after because the bone had developed an infection. But with strong antibiotics, bone surgery, and natural remedies, his body was free from the infection. However, scans revealed other complications as the tibial plateau was severely damaged. He now needs to replace the bone with a much stronger implant, hence his quest to raise US$20,000.00 to pay for the procedure. He has subsequently set up a “gofundme” page to help raise funds, and is hoping to get additional money from his music. Spencer is currently writing and recording songs which have received some airplay.

Spencer gives credit to his family, which includes his mother and five-year-old brother Tariq. “Sometimes he’ll just randomly come to me and ask me if my foot is hurting and put his hand on it and pray for me. It has always put a smile on my face,” he said.

When he is not studying or composing music, Spencer devotes time to writing his book, A leg’s journey – to the greater glory of God. The latter was taken from the motto of his alma mater, St George’s College. Meanwhile, Spencer encouraged his peers not to give up no matter how daunting the task may seem. “Obstacles only make you stronger (and) the fact that I am still breathing is all the motivation I need to keep going,” Spencer said.

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