Lung Cancer Survivor Jazzes It Up to Raise Funds, Awareness

Awareness & Research

This report is the fourth in a series of stories on commemorating Lung Cancer Awareness Month throughout November. Our other stories focus on awareness, research and funding.

Hildy Grossman always loved performing on stage, singing for the joy of the song and the thrill she felt as a cabaret entertainer.

She sings today to save lives.

Grossman has turned a lifelong passion for musical theater into a beacon of hope for much-needed lung cancer research, creating a nonprofit, volunteer-powered fundraising arm built around performing arts.

She calls it Upstage Lung Cancer, which soared beyond the $1 million mark last month with its 6th annual concert, “Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime,” a celebration of the music once performed by Dean Martin and the Rat Pack.

Previous performances included “Unforgettable,” a tribute to Nat King Cole and Rosemary Clooney; “I Could Have Danced All Night,” celebrating the life and lyrics of Alan Jay Lerner; and “Our Guys and Dolls,” remembering the music of Frank Loesser.

All were singers or songwriters who died of lung cancer.

“I’m certainly not grandiose enough to think we’re curing cancer with what we do, but I just felt like supporting lung cancer research was the right thing to do,” Grossman told “In our own little way, we’re trying to leave the world a little better than how we found it.”

Her efforts already have left a mark, drawing considerable attention throughout November, which is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. Many activists like Grossman are holding events, while others are pushing for prevention measures, as well as increased funding and research.

She Is a Fortunate Survivor

Grossman, who lives in the Brookline/Boston area, is a lung cancer survivor, one of the fortunate 15 percent who has lived more than five years after diagnosis. A nonsmoker, she was unlucky in getting the disease, but blessed it was discovered so early and inadvertently.

She was having an MRI in 2006 to determine the extent of a pinched nerve in her back, from an earlier fall in her basement, when two tiny spots on her right lung were discovered. They were small, early-stage and still contained.

Although she was horrified at the discovery of lung cancer, she was overwhelmed by the show of concern and kindness from those all around her. After surgery to remove the two small lobes, family, friends and people she didn’t even know, helped her through recovery, leaving her with a new determination to help others, too.

“I wanted to know how to make something meaningful out of something that was so negative,” she said. “And I found it.”

Upstage Lung Cancer was born, allowing her to honor legendary entertainers she loved while raising awareness and funds for lung cancer research. She is the president, artistic director and producer.

“I was never a fundraiser, knew nothing about it or ever a board member of anything,” she said. “But I loved singing, and I did know how to put on a good show.”

Growing up Around the Stage

Grossman grew up in her father’s southwest Ohio nightclub, watching legendary acts like Tony Bennett, Lena Horne and Milton Berle. It’s where she fell in love with the stage many years ago.

Although she is a well-respected psychologist in the Brookline area, her passion for singing never wavered. She is a founding member of The Follen Angels, a popular cabaret group that does everything from jazz clubs to dinner theater.

“I have so many lives, it’s almost embarrassing,” Grossman says. “It’s never boring. Sometimes, I wonder what it would be like to be bored.”

She has used her musical and clinical connections, along with her own lung cancer experience, to put together a collection of volunteers to make Upstage work. There are cancer survivors, good friends, dedicated physicians, other singers and musicians who help create these fundraising events.

Grants Focus on Early Detection

Upstage Lung Cancer has raised more than $1 million performing one major show each year, along with other smaller events, since its formation in 2008 as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit.

It provided a two-year, $600,000 grant in 2011 to Dr. Rebecca Heist at the Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center. Heist was identifying novel agents for future clinical trials by working with genetic changes in lung cancer tumors.

The nonprofit also provided a one-year, $200,000 grant in 2013 to Dr. Feng Jiang at the University of Maryland-Baltimore. He was focused on discovering better early-detection methods for lung cancer. He soon will be receiving a second $200,000 grant from UpStage Lung Cancer to continue his work.

Grossman hopes Upstage can fund another $200,000 grant early in 2015, continuing the momentum it has built. The New England Patriots of the National Football League recently presented the Myra Kraft Community MVP Award to Upstage Lung Cancer, bringing considerable attention to the cause.

In March 2015, Upstage will hold its next event, a youth musical festival entitled “Sing Out,” which will include younger performers and a much younger theme, hoping to open new doors to lung cancer fundraising in the Boston area.

“To me, these shows become a celebration of life. This has become something really important to me, and to a lot of other people, too,” Grossman said. “Hopefully, it will be life saving for others down the road.”