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    Retired flight attendant finds second career raising funds in honor of a friend

    Retired flight attendant Pauline Alighieri started the annual conference “The Art of Living — Life Beyond Cancer” in 2011 after a colleague died from breast cancer.
    Retired flight attendant Pauline Alighieri started the annual conference “The Art of Living — Life Beyond Cancer” in 2011 after a colleague died from breast cancer.

    Pauline Alighieri of Marshfield, a retired Delta flight attendant, started the Rockland-based Friends of Mel Foundation in 2006 in honor of friend and colleague Mel Simmons of Hingham, who died from breast cancer the year before.

    In 2011, as an offshoot of that philanthropic effort that provides financial assistance to cancer victims and their families, Alighieri and others started a conference, “The Art of Living — Life Beyond Cancer,” scheduled this year for Nov. 14 at the Boston Marriott Quincy. It features workshops and skill-building seminars designed for people whose lives have been affected by cancer.

    All of it is a full-time nonprofit job, and Alighieri, who is in her 60s, has no intention of easing up her busy schedule.

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    “Why stop?” asked Alighieri, who was a flight attendant for 40 years. “How many people are given the gift of a second career at my age? I think everyone wants to feel relevant, and I’ll do this as long as I can.”

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    The Friends of Mel Foundation started with a humble goal of raising $5,000 through the sale of Mel’s Bracelets, made of beads from Turkey.

    “It was amazing; they really took off,” Alighieri said. “At the end of the year, we gave $1 million to Massachusetts General Hospital.”

    Since then, the charity has given another $2 million locally and nationally to groups mirroring its mission of financial support for cancer patients. On Sept. 25, the foundation received a Massachusetts State House citation honoring its work.

    “When someone’s undergoing cancer treatment,” said Alighieri, who lost her father and a brother-in-law to the disease, “the financial challenge of daily life is a huge challenge.”

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    The fifth annual conference has grown steadily, she said, with about 1,000 people attending over the last four years. She has met many people working with cancer patients and uses their expertise to help plan conference events. New this year will be programs for young adults, such as one in body image, self-esteem, and relationships. For information, visit www.friendsofmel.org.

    Despite the conference being about cancer, Alighieri said, “the tone is positive, start to finish. It’s about living your best life and improving your situation.”

    Paul E. Kandarian can be reached at pkandarian@aol.com.