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Boston Globe Article: Norwood Woman Fights Cancer’s Emotional Effects

Fighting the physical effects of cancer can be daunting enough. Fighting the emotional ones can be as well.   Pauline Alighieri of Norwood is trying to do something about the emotional impact of cancer. Three years ago, the founder of the Friends of Mel Foundation created a conference, “The Art of Living – Life Beyond Cancer,” an event that she says is “all about living.”   “When someone has a diagnosis of cancer, they have an emotional piece that may not be addressed by the hospital,” Alighieri said. “The nice thing about the conference is we focus on psychosocial needs, fear, anxiety, and depression. It’s all about living.”   Alighieri created the Rockland-based Friends of Mel Foundation in 2007 to honor her longtime friend and fellow Delta flight attendant, Mel Simmons of Hingham, who died in 2005 from breast cancer at age 57.

Mel with Torch
In 2002, Pauline Alighieri (right) congratulated Mel Simmons on being chosen to carry the Olympic torch.

When Simmons was undergoing cancer treatment at Massachusetts General Hospital, colleagues brought her gifts from abroad, including bracelets from Turkey. In turn, Simmons left them for other people in treatment.   “After she died, people started asking where they could find the bracelets,” Alighieri said. “The idea was born.”   The foundation produces bracelets, with the beads imported from Turkey and assembled by workers at Emarc in Reading, a nonprofit that helps people with developmental disabilities. The bracelets are sold for $20-$45, and to date, Friends of Mel has donated more than $3 million to cancer research, as well as grassroots organizations that provide financial support to cancer patients and their families, Alighieri said.

This year’s Art of Living conference will be held Saturday at the Boston Quincy Marriott.

The day-long conference will have 16 skill-building seminars on such issues as weight management, getting back into the job market, regaining relationship connections, body image, dealing with the cost of treatment, and concerns about body image.

Alighieri is adamant about “integrative therapy” being a key component to cancer recovery, which encompasses the emotional side of the disease.

“Research confirms that treating distress will not only improve the quality of life for people living with cancer, but will also enhance treatment adherence, hasten recovery and even lower health-care costs,” Alighieri said. “The importance of healing the mind as much as the body has become so critical.”

Alighieri said Simmons would be pleased by the push to address cancer’s emotional impact, and the conference created to address it.

“We’re determined it will be a great, positive day to give survivors tools they need to live a great life,” Alighieri said.

The conference opens at 8 a.m., and registration fee is $25. To register or obtain more information, visit http://friendsofmel.org/conference/.

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