Music for cancer sufferers

Positive and charismatic Charlie Lustman sings about his experience of surviving cancer and shares the good news with audiences everywhere. What role does music play for cancer sufferers? How can musicians align themselves to better serve good causes?


Many years ago, I received an e-mail from an industry contact that he had prostate cancer. I was surprised that he wrote to me. It was too personal to share professionally. I read his e-mails and responded as best as I could. He was eventually cured.

Soon after, I learned of someone else who was being treated in Houston for cancer. I was very sad.

Another friend nursed her husband through stage 4 cancer and then learned of her own vulnerability in the process. They now embrace life in a fervor unknown in their previous cancer-free life.

A couple years ago, I found myself a recipient in a long mailing list of an e-mail message from an estranged friend of her breast cancer diagnosis. I felt inadequate because we had not kept in touch and our communication was stunted.

I have had close friends and family die of cancer.

My late grandfather was diagnosed with lung  cancer but nobody had the heart to tell him. He died without knowing why. Perhaps they wanted to give him hope. Perhaps it was a Chinese conspiracy not to tell bad news to the sufferer.

When Robert and I decided to visit Houston in November 2010, we wanted to perform at the MD Anderson Cancer Clinic where my industry contact received his treatment. He gave us the name of a lady who coordinated volunteers. It was too late to put up posters and let everyone know that we would be giving a concert. We mentioned it in the 6 am KPFT “Living Arts” programme that morning. Surprisingly a man drove from Katy to hear us give that concert at 1 pm.

I don’t know if our concert made a difference that day. MD Anderson Cancer Center did not feel like a hospital. It was busy, full of people going in and out. There was a canteen, a flower store, and even a chapel. The grand piano was always being used, I was told. For lack of the usual concert audience, I considered our afternoon concert near the Fountain a warm-up for the KUHF Front Row recording at 3:30 pm that same afternoon.

Afterwards, I asked my industry contact-turned-friend in Houston for feedback on our concert in MD Anderson. He said that it did make a difference even though we may not be aware of it. He wrote:

I am just coming out of survivor mode myself.  And it is a struggle to not slip back into it.

The challenge with survivors is they just survive and are willing to look at everything as a means to do so.  As such, each event, resource — almost everything is consumed like a thirsty person in a desert being given a glass of water, they don’t savor it — they gulp it.  They also give off a sense of that desperation as well — like a spiritual odor.  So, remember, it’s hard to get the deer out in the open if they think you are crouched and hungry.”

Robert and I have played in nursing homes, hospitals, drug rehabilitation centres, psychiatric clinics, and other places that serve as home to the weak and the sick. The residents aren’t able to go to concert venues, so we, as musicians, dress up and travel there to give our concerts. Our mission is not to heal but to share the joy of our music making and hope that we make a small difference in their lives.

Last Thursday at the Rotary Club of Maui luncheon in the “Class Act” Restaurant in Kahului, I saw a different kind of music making. A cancer survivor told the story of his battle through original songs he wrote. His positive energy was so overwhelming that it brought tears to my eyes. Why should I be crying? I’ve never had cancer. I am so healthy and fit that I feel guilty to be alive and making the most of it.

I wanted to approach the singer/songwriter after his short performance. He was already gone. Luckily I found him outside singing to the students and passerby’s at a nursing event on Maui College campus. I introduced myself as he was packing up.

Charlie Lustman lives on Maui. He actively sings to bring hope to cancer survivors. He believes that a positive attitude will help combat the uncertainties and fears that confront cancer patients. He turned his latest album “Made Me Nuclear” into an operetta and plans to tour the country.

Charlie’s positive attitude is contagious. I told him that I wish other musicians could empower themselves with positive attitude and share their gift with the world. It requires reframing the question of how musicians can survive after conservatory or other musical training and align with those that will benefit from their talent.

Author: BLOGmaiden

As one of the earliest bloggers (since 1999), I enjoy meeting people who embrace "out-of-the-box" thinking and fear not the unknown. I believe in collaboration for sustainability because it increases stakeholder value.

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