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Local musician survives cancer

Blind keyboardist Jay Spell is now free of esophageal disease and playing again at the Londoner.

Posted: April 21, 2008 12:53 a.m.
Updated: June 22, 2008 5:03 a.m.

Jay Spell, a 62-year-old blind keyboardist who survived esophageal cancer, performs at The Londoner Pub on Sunday.

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They may be a blues band, but no one was singing the blues on Sunday afternoon at The Londoner Pub in Canyon Country. Quite the contrary, the Alan Wright Blues Band cast a spell on its audience - all in the name of Jay Spell, who survived a bout with esophageal cancer.

The 62-year-old blind keyboardist, originally from Myrtle Beach, S.C., calls the stage at the Canyon Country pub 'home.' As Alan Wright performed vocals and a trio of instruments created harmonic melodies behind him, Spell, who now lives in Canyon Country, razzled and dazzled on stage.

As he was recently diagnosed with esophageal cancer, which affects the surface lining of the esophagus, Spell's days on Earth could have been in jeopardy. The overall five-year survival rate for esophageal cancer victims is less than five percent, and affects men with an average age of 67.

Despite the odds against him, including multiple surgeries and intense treatment, Spell survived and is now cancer free.

"I am now cancer free, living life and feeling good," Spell said shortly before his performance on Sunday, which was to be recorded by NBC for a feature story on cancer survivors. "I am 62 years old and I've enjoyed every minute of it."

It is that positive, vibrant attitude that helped him survive the life-threatening disease. Now, he continues to play the keyboard, except with a purpose beyond entertaining the crowd. His new mission is to raise money for cancer awareness and treatment.

"Jay always had a positive outlook, even during cancer treatments," said Wright, who met Spell in Myrtle Beach and performed with him for more than a decade. "This is not a minor cancer. It's amazing that he survived this. It's really a blessing and an honor to perform with him."

Performing did not always come easy for Spell. He became blind as a child, yet that did not prevent him from following his passion of playing the keyboard. Even before he was blind, he loved to perform on stage with the harmonic musical instrument. Yet, even after losing his sight, he managed to team up with several popular bands and musicians through the fifties, sixties and beyond, including Jimmy Buffett and Canned Heat.

A steady act at The Londoner, Spell always attracted a crowd. His battle with cancer attracted the people at NBC, who are helping him promote National Cancer Survivor's Day on June 1st, the same day that the national network will air a segment on Spell's winning battle with the rare disease.

Spell is the third of three Londoner performers who recently battled cancer, though he is the only survivor.

Two other musicians - John Parker from John Parker and Forced Call and Scott Spencer from The Skinny Little Twits - also battled cancer. Both musicians died earlier this month. The Canyon Country pub will be hosting several cancer-related fundraisers in honor of all three musicians, with proceeds going to The American Cancer Society.

While Parker and Spencer are deceased, Spell continues to entertain as if nothing ever happened.

"I've been doing this for as long as I can remember," he said. "I can't imagine doing anything else."

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