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Singing to raise cancer patients’ spirits

For cancer patients like Ann J. Goddard, chemotherapy day is often the most boring of the month.

Tuesday was different.

Shortly after midday, a man with a colorful guitar stepped into her cubicle at the University of Kansas Bloch Cancer Care Pavilion. Charlie Lustman, a cancer survivor, was there to sing for her.

“It’s wonderful. It’s really nice. Since we have to lie here so long, it breaks the monotony,” said Goddard, 78. “I mean the workers are here but they are doing their job, so it gets a little lonely.”

Lustman reckons that while a cancer center can take care of the body, the patients have to help boost their own spirits.

His songs are his way of lending a hand.

Lustman, 47, was running a silent-cinema theater in Los Angeles in 2006 when he was diagnosed with osteosarcoma. The cancer had developed as a bump in his upper jaw that refused to go away. Lustman’s wife was seven months pregnant and his son was 3 years old.

He underwent 22 rounds of chemotherapy over the next year. The doctors also had to take a large section of his upper jaw on the left side.

Lustman does not like to dwell on the treatment but on what happened after he left what he calls “the cancer college.”

Being positive about the outcome of the treatment allowed him to suffer fewer side effects, he said.

“Cancer was something I had to do and was the inspiration for what I had to do,” he said.

Lustman graduated from the Berklee College of Music in Boston and had an album to his name but had moved on from music.

He went back after his illness and wrote the songs on his latest CD, “Made Me Nuclear,” which he hands out to patients as he goes along. The songs tell the story of his journey through the disease and treatment and have the happy ending that some cancer patients do not.

“My mission is to make cancer survival popular because it is not usual to think of cancer as something positive and that you can create something out of,” he said.

Lustman, who now lives in Hawaii, has performed in cities across the United States and in Europe, and trips to Japan and Australia are in the works. His tours are sponsored by a cancer medicine company.

“I went through cancer with people who had more positive prognosis and they are not here. Why do I get to stay? It’s because of this,” he said, before heading off to cheer up one more patient.

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