Survival is literally in Charlie Lustman’s blood.
Born as the son of a Holocaust survivor in Munich, Germany on May 8, 1965, the 20th Anniversary of the end of World War II in Europe, Charlie moved with his family to Los Angeles, California at a very young age. While growing up there, Charlie realized he had a passion for both music and entertainment.
They were passions that would help define his life, through higher education at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, stints as a traveling and performing musician in New York City, Los Angeles and throughout Europe, and even as the owner/operator of a silent film theater in Hollywood.
But in 2006, life for Charlie changed in a way he could never have imagined.
“I had a little bump in my gum line. I went to the dentist, and the dentist looked at it and said, ‘I don’t know what that is. I think you need to see a periodontist.’ So I went to see the periodontist and he also said, ‘I don’t know what that is.’ Which made me very nervous at that point,” Charlie said.
On the periodontist’s recommendation, the growth was removed and sent to a laboratory for testing. When the test results came back, they diagnosed Charlie as having a very rare form of osteosarcoma, or bone cancer, in his upper-jaw.
When he received the fateful news, Charlie was performing in the booth of a recording studio. He was both married and the father of a three year-old son, Shaya. At the time, his wife was seven months pregnant with their second child.
He recalled the medical advice he received upon learning of his cancer diagnosis.
“That tumor in there has to be removed, which means you’re looking at having your jaw sawed off and if it’s got heavy activity, you will possibly have to have chemotherapy as well to save your life,” Charlie recalled.
Charlie experienced the range of emotions felt by anyone faced with a diagnosis of a life-threatening illness: Denial, anxiety and anger, to name a few. Things looked dire.
“I’m a singer and they’re telling me that they’re going to saw off my jaw, and I may never chew food or talk again, possibly. I thought to myself, ‘Well, I just want to sing again. That was the power I gave myself as a goal, that I will sing again one today. Somehow, they’re going to make this work,” Charlie said.
Charlie remembered that he was inspired by the story of his operating surgeon, who himself battled back from a seemingly-incurable form of blood cancer a decade prior to continue practicing medicine. The doctor emphasized the importance of Charlie unifying his body, mind and spirit on his road to recovery.
“It was a very prominent moment and turning point for me,” Charlie said.
During the operation, Charlie’s jaw was removed and he underwent a skin graft. By his own admission, it caused him “more pain than any human being can possibly imagine.” He was also fitted with a prosthetic jaw.
Afterwards, Charlie learned that he was also facing a year’s worth of adjuvant (or supplemental) chemotherapy to hopefully ensure that the cancer would not return or spread to his vital organs. Though as an avid follower of holistic medicine and in the interest of preserving his vocal cords, Charlie explained that he opted out of other radiation treatment and knew he would persevere.
According to Charlie, “I wasn’t thinking about the fear of death and dying and everything. I was more concerned about how my wife was doing and how my kid was doing, you know?”
Strengthened by his positive outlook, Charlie summoned his lifelong passion and set himself to the task at hand: Capturing the feelings and emotions which characterized his ordeal with cancer into music.
“It’s time to sit down and start writing these songs. It’s time to start putting everything that I’m going through into music, into lyric, tell the story and make it funny, hopeful and positive. Of course, it can’t avoid going through the difficult parts, the emotional parts, the painful parts. Which I do in the music, as well. But at least spin it so that there’s a possibility in it,” Charlie said of his artistic process.
Charlie made it his mission to share his musical message of hope with cancer patients and those touched by cancer, both around the country and around the world.
“I’VE BEEN DOING THIS NOW FOR 10-PLUS YEARS AT HOSPITALS, CANCER CENTERS, CONFERENCES, THEATERS, CREATED A DOCUMENTARY, MADE THE ALBUM IN 2008 CALLED ‘MADE ME NUCLEAR’. THAT’S MY WEBSITE, MADEMENUCLEAR.COM. I’VE BEEN TOURING AROUND THE COUNTRY ON WHAT I CALL THE ‘MUSICAL HOPE CAMPAIGN,” CHARLIE SAID.
On his next loop of tour dates, Charlie commented that he will return to play at hospitals and also begin to bring his unique brand of music to high schools nationwide.
It was through his touring that Charlie crossed paths with Legacy of Hope and its founder Mike Rowe, who encouraged Charlie to share his story.
“Thomas Jefferson Hospital and Sidney Kimmel Cancer Center, they invited me to come and be the keynote singer-speaker at their survivorship celebration. They brought me in and I sang for the entire community, to give them this boost of hope and love and good energy, for what everybody is going through and whoever is touched by this crazy cancer thing,” Charlie said.
Charlie stated that his goal is to continue to travel and make his music accessible to anyone diagnosed with cancer, so those individuals can feel completely supported, have a vision and immediately see a light at the end of the tunnel. But further, to go beyond communicating his message merely to patients and reach the mainstream.
“This is not just for the patients and the loved ones, it’s for the nurses and the doctors, it’s for all the administrative people, it’s for the janitors, it’s for everybody who has any skin in the game, who are touched one way or the other, to hit all sides with this message of hope. Because it makes those who are not going through cancer feel supported, and then they can offer further support to those who are going through it. It really is for everyone,” Charlie stated.
It’s Charlie’s goal to keep his Musical Hope Campaign running for as long as his body will allow him to do so, certainly into his golden years.
“Come on, Paul McCartney is 77 and he’s still out there rocking. He’s an inspiration that you can keep doing what you love to do, but with purpose. With mission and purpose,” Charlie concluded.