Singer, songwriter, and cancer survivor Charlie Lustman brought his Made Me Nuclear album and Musical HOPE Campaign to the ONS 36th Annual Congress.
For Charlie Lustman, a suspicious finding at a routine dental appointment in 2006 led to the discovery that he had osteosarcoma, a primary bone cancer. After 2 major surgeries and a year of adjuvant chemotherapy, Lustman was left without 75% of his upper jaw. During the difficult treatment process, Lustman, an accomplished musician, began writing songs about his cancer experience. He eventually recorded a 13-song album and pop operetta entitled Made Me Nuclear. Now, Lustman has embarked on what he calls the Musical HOPE Campaign.
Through the campaign, Lustman is journeying across America to bring his songs and positive survivorship message to hospitals, clinics, wellness centers, and schools. As part of the campaign, Lustman headlined the keynote session at the ONS Congress. With his trademark optimism, Lustman opened up to OncLive Nursing about his experiences and goals for his noble campaign. To view our complete video of Lustman, go to http://bit.ly/kmGyTO.
The Made Me Nuclear album cover.
“Do what you love, love what you do.” It’s my motto. I think you get that pretty strong after you get a cancer diagnosis, and then you go through the whole process, and you recover and you come out of it. You’re like, “Hey, I just want to do what I love to do because life is very, very fragile.”
What kind of hit me halfway through my cancer experience was, “I’m going to get through this, and being a composer, I’m going to write songs about this.” And then I’m going to travel all over the world and sing songs about hope and survival with people going through the ultimate challenges. And that’s kind of [what] turned out to be what I love to do, so I do what I love and I love what I do, and along the way [I hope to] make a difference in people’s lives.
So welcome to my Musical HOPE Campaign. The mission? Anybody listening? To make cancer survival popular! That’s it. That’s what we’re doing. The em>Musical HOPE Campaign is a journey across America and the world, bringing songs to hospitals, clinics, community centers, wellness communities, spiritual centers, and schools that will open up the conversation about cancer. Let’s talk about cancer. Let’s get it out in the open. The more we’re out in the open, the less we’re afraid of it.
So with music, all of a sudden it becomes more accessible, more open. It’s just a great excuse to get those lyrics in there somehow, because you’re playing these pop songs, and people like it, and then [they] realize, “Hey, he’s singing about chemotherapy.”
And to take the edge off of it means you’re going to have a better experience in the treatment. You’re going to bring more people around you who are not as afraid as you are, because they see you freaked out, so they’re freaked out. If you’re a little less freaked out, they’re a little less freaked out. And guess what? Then you can hug each other more, and you can empathize with each other, and it makes the whole process a little easier. So music tends to have a way of releasing, and in the release there’s healing.
And I’m not necessarily saying healing [as a physical] cure. You know, there’s no cure for humanity. We are what we are. It is what it is. And, yes, we will search for different types of cures, but I’m talking about more in a spiritual sense. The cure is sharing, being open, hugging each other more and loving each other more. That’s the cure. And then whatever comes along, whatever that obstacle is in your life, it opens up an idea that maybe there’s something positive here. Maybe there’s a possibility here. But to get to that, we have to be able to kind of let go of all the other first reflections and reactions to a certain situation.
Charlie Lustman performs his one-man pop operetta, Made Me Nuclear.
Of course, when you get a cancer diagnosis—when I got mine—there’s the, “Why me? Why me? Oh, my God, why is this happening to me?” And then you’re like, and I was like, “Well, why not me?” Who should get this? My pregnant wife? My wife was pregnant at the time. My two-year-old child? My father, my mother, my sister, my brother, my best friends? Who should get this? Okay, you gave it to the right guy. At least, you know, I can take that. I’ll deal with that. At least everybody’s okay. You know, I’ve always been a caregiver kind of guy, so, okay, tag, I’m it. You know?
And somewhere along the line, I’d say within the first 3 months, I came upon a very powerful book called Getting Well Again by the late O. Carl Simonton, and it really gave me the idea that I can kind of, okay, I have this negative thought of everything, and I’m very down on it and everything, but that, I realized, and according to this book, that that’s a choice. You can choose to feel that way. Yes, it comes naturally to most of us to feel that way, especially when you have cancer. But once you kind of go like, “Wait a minute, that’s a choice to think that way,” what’s the opposite of that thought? Well…it’s hope, life, appreciation, opportunity, possibility. That’s the opposite of, “Oh, my God, am I going to die? What is my wife going to do?” and all these things. Sure, again, we have to go through those feelings. You can’t suppress that. But once you kind of run [through] that like a million times… all of a sudden you’re kind of like [sighs], you’re a lot better, and you start to kind of learn more about what’s going on, and that kind of takes the edge off of it—knowledge is really good—and you realize that there’s some possibilities out there, things that you would’ve never even thought of if you hadn’t even gotten the cancer diagnosis. And for me it was to write a pop album about surviving cancer.
Songs take you through the experience. And I [went] out and [found] a spunky, cool love guitar, and started singing these songs for people, and it’s just like this is a release for me, and everybody starts to feel like they’re supported and understood through these songs, and it’s become my life’s mission. And what happened to me is that this cancer diagnosis now has defi ned my entire life’s work, and I’m able to do things I’d never thought possible. For God’s sake, I just sang for 5000 oncology nurses at the coolest convention you can ever think of. The love, the appreciation for each other, the work they do to help humanity, it’s like what an audience! Who would have ever thought?
I’ll never forget when I used to go room to room years ago. This was way before my cancer diagnosis. I actually went to the cancer centers and I played songs, going room to room. And I remember I walked into this room, and this man was, he was pretty close to the end of his journey…and I fi nished the song, and he looked me in the eye and he said, “You know, I’m a very lucky man.” I said, “Yes.” Like, I wasn’t sure what he was getting at because he was almost at the point of leaving the planet. And he said, “If I wouldn’t have gotten cancer and been in this position, I would have never had an artist like you come into my room and sing a song for me.” [Sigh]. That’s stayed with me ever since, and I think it’s 10 years now.
Cancer Survivor Charlie Lustman Lives to Tell His Story
That’s the kind of powerful connection that people going through this can have, and that people not going through this can have. It’s a choice. If you take a moment and just look out the window and go, “Wow, this sight is cool. This is really something else. This is great. I’m alive, and there are people in my world that love me and I love them. And whatever I do in between the love is what I do in between the love, but it’s about the love.” And that’s what my mission is about, Made Me Nuclear, my collection of songs about surviving cancer and my Musical HOPE Campaign, coming to a town near you in 2011.
Come to Facebook and look for Charlie Lustman [Facebook]. Let me know who you are and join the campaign, and we’re going to bring a message of hope to the planet Earth. So, we’ll see you there.