Giving a voice to raising lung cancer awareness and funding

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By Ed Karvoski Jr., Culture Editor

Hildy Grossman
Hildy Grossman
Photo/Bob Bond

Brookline – Clinical psychologist, vocalist and lung cancer survivor Hildy Grossman of Brookline got her diagnosis while caring for another health concern. Grateful for early detection, she drew upon her experience as a professional entertainer and founded Upstage Lung Cancer (ULC). The nonprofit organization produces concerts to raise awareness and funds for lung cancer research.

A fall on the stairs to her basement in 2006 caused discomfort to an ankle, elbow and wrist. Visits to several specialists led to an MRI revealing two spots in her right lung. A biopsy confirmed it was lung cancer. She underwent surgery and recuperated at home.

Performers of Upstage Lung Cancer’s fall 2018 concert, “Barbra, Bette & Bernadette”: (l to r) Michael Hammond, Paula Markowicz, Hildy Grossman, Brian De Lorenzo and Candy O’Terry
Performers of Upstage Lung Cancer’s fall 2018 concert, “Barbra, Bette & Bernadette”: (l to r) Michael Hammond, Paula Markowicz, Hildy Grossman, Brian De Lorenzo and Candy O’Terry
Photo/David Fox

“I needed only surgery because I was diagnosed by accident and it got detected so early,” she explained. “Lung cancer survivors often find out about it by accident. Our focus at ULC is trying to find a reliable, noninvasive, inexpensive way to detect lung cancer early. Survival shouldn’t be by accident.”

When she founded ULC in 2008, her first step was recruiting two friends who are experienced nonprofit organization leaders: Crispin Weinberg, a scientist, biotech entrepreneur and president of the Coolidge Corner Community Chorus in Brookline; and Susan Gessner, a lung cancer survivor, and former board member of the Marblehead Museum and Historical Society.

Grossman requests help from colleagues in the entertainment industry for ULC’s major fundraising concerts presented annually in the fall and spring. She contacted Emmy Award-winning arts and entertainment critic Joyce Kulhawik, a three-time cancer survivor (ovarian cancer twice, and melanoma). Kulhawik has emceed each of ULC’s 10 fall concerts.

Performers of Upstage Lung Cancer’s fall 2017 concert, “From Bench to Broadway”: (l to r) John King, Paula Markowicz, Darvon Monroe, Hildy Grossman and Brian De Lorenzo
Performers of Upstage Lung Cancer’s fall 2017 concert, “From Bench to Broadway”: (l to r) John King, Paula Markowicz, Darvon Monroe, Hildy Grossman and Brian De Lorenzo
Photo/Bob Bond

“I reached out to Joyce the very first year and she has stayed with us,” Grossman noted. “She has been the heart and soul of this effort every year.”

Some fall concerts in its early years featured songs of musicians who passed away of lung cancer including vocalists Rosemary Clooney, Nat King Cole and Dean Martin; lyricist Alan Jay Lerner, a multiple award winner for “Brigadoon,” “Gigi” and “My Fair Lady”; and composer-lyricist Frank Loesser, a multiple award winner for “Guys and Dolls” and “How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying.”

ULC’s 10th annual fall concert – showcasing more contemporary repertoires of entertainment icons Bette Midler, Bernadette Peters and Barbra Streisand – was presented in October 2018 at Mosesian Center for the Arts in Watertown. Joining vocalist Grossman and emcee Kulhawik onstage were singers whose involvement with ULC range from two to 10 years: Brian De Lorenzo, Michael Hammond and Paula Markowitz. Hammond also directed, and Tim Evans served as music director. Returning to the fall concert for her second year was Candy O’Terry, vocalist, broadcaster, and co-founder and president of Boston Women in Media & Entertainment.

Grossman describes the ongoing collaborations of ULC’s concert performers as “a palpable lovefest.”

“The cast really loves and appreciates each other,” she said, “From the very beginning, there have been so many generous people who volunteer their services and abilities. I’m so impressed with their kindness.”

In addition to fall and spring fundraisers, ULC has presented other concerts year-round throughout New England, New York City and Washington, D.C. According to ULC’s website, “Since 2011, our concert proceeds have invested in over $2 million in leading-edge research to detect and cure lung cancer, the number-one cancer killer.”

Grossman added, “As I celebrated my 10-year diagnosis anniversary, I learned that only 5 percent of people diagnosed with lung cancer will be living 10 years later. I’d like to see treatments come about that turn lung cancer into more of a chronic disease, so that people can live longer and healthier lives.”

For more information about Upstage Lung Cancer, visit upstagelungcancer.org and facebook.com/upstagelungcancer.