The patients in the infusion room at the Fox Chase Cancer Center might have been drowsy with medication, but Charlie Lustman livened things up one afternoon last week.
Lustman, who lives on the Hawaiian island of Maui, brought his colorful peace-and-love guitar and upbeat singing voice to Fox Chase as part of his Musical Hope Campaign.
In 2005, Lustman was diagnosed with a rare form of osteosarcoma of the upper maxillary (jawbone). There are about 800 new cases of osteosarcoma diagnosed in the United States each year, according to the American Cancer Society.
After two surgeries and a year of treatment, he was declared cancer-free, but first doctors removed three-quarters of his upper jaw. He wears a prosthetic jaw and had to learn how to talk, eat and, of course, sing again.
Lustman, a singer/songwriter and commercial jingle writer in New York before his diagnosis, was inspired by his cancer experience to offer hope to others affected by the disease.
“Look at me,” he said. “I had my jaw sawed off and I’m singing in cancer wards across America.”
The “Minstrel of Hope,” as he is known, visited Fox Chase on Dec. 1, thanks to the center’s Love Versus Cancer campaign.
Lustman, a 46-year-old married father of three, delighted staff, patients and their family and friends in the waiting area, on hospital floors and in the cafeteria. He was introduced to employees by Patricia Cantwell, who survived osteosarcoma after treatment at Fox Chase.
The entertainer distributed copies of the compact disc Made Me Nuclear, a collection of 13 uplifting songs that he wrote and produced.
The songs have funny lyrics but are meant to offer hope. Lustman is grateful for beating the cancer and being able to spread a message of hope.
“I’m a lucky guy,” he said. “I am lucky to be able to stay on the planet longer and watch my kids grow up.”
Lustman’s basic message is that there can be light at the end of the tunnel for most cancer patients.
“I feel very blessed to offer that light,” he said.
Lustman calls fighting cancer “the ultimate challenge.” It’s OK, he said, for those diagnosed to feel scared, depressed and angry.
The key, he said, is to develop a positive outlook on life.
“All of a sudden,” he said, “amazing miracles will pop up in your life.”
Among the songs Lustman performed was Chemo Brain.
“This chemo stuff makes you a little loopy,” he said, speaking from experience.
Ann Darling, a US Airways stewardess from Cape May Courthouse, N.J., described Lustman’s performance as “fabulous.”
Darling, accompanied by her husband Bill, has breast cancer and was at Fox Chase for the first time, admittedly not in the best of spirits.
“He lifted my spirits,” she said of Lustman.
He sang Made Me Nuclear as Phoenixville’s Rolando Ranaglia was having blood drawn.
“I love your lyrics,” said Ranaglia, who has cancer in several parts of his body.
On the other side of the nurses’ station, Lustman performed Somebody New, a groovy rock-and-roll tune, for several patients.
The goodwill ambassador also told stories, some designed to generate a laugh and others to inspire. He recommended a book, Getting Well Again, which chronicles some of the positive aspects of a cancer journey — such as the attention, love and support a patient gets from family and friends.
Jean Bridgers, of Solebury, Bucks County, has stage-four colon cancer. She’s a wife and mother to three teens ages 14, 15 and 18. She appreciated Lustman’s cancer message.
“He understands it,” she said. “Your whole world changes. You become a different person, and so does your family.” ••
For more information on Lustman, go to www.mademenuclear.com
Reporter Tom Waring can be reached at 215-354-3034 or firstname.lastname@example.org