Aurelie Alger has accomplished a lot in her 57 years. She’s a wife, mother, attorney, business owner, horse lover, avid traveler and more.
Breast cancer survivor is also among her proudest titles. And she wants more people to hear about and focus on the successes and positives surrounding the disease.
That includes sharing her own story.
“There are so many magnificent treatments out there now. We have breakthroughs every day. Women are surviving and women are thriving. And that’s something that needs to be celebrated,” said Alger, who in 1987 was crowned Miss Massachusetts and competed that year in the Miss America pageant.
Today, she remains active in the Miss Massachusetts Scholarship Foundation, previously serving as the group’s executive director.
The former Aurelie McCarthy grew up in East Boston and originally came to the area to attend Merrimack College in North Andover.
After graduating Merrimack in 1985, she earned her law degree from Suffolk University in Boston in 1988.
As an undergraduate, who rode and trained area horses, she loved the North Andover area, particularly for its open spaces and country feel.
She and her husband, Stan, and their son, Stanley, 18, have lived in town since 2002 in a development that backs up to Harold Parker State Forest.
“I have always loved North Andover. It’s a beautiful community,” she said.
Formerly a litigator at Burns & Levinson LLP in Boston, Alger and her husband own PRRI, a company that specializes in managing nonprofit professional medical societies that’s based at the Cummings Center in Beverly.
The fall of 2017 was a very busy time in Alger’s life and she now admits she was pushing herself too hard. She developed a bad cold, which led to a severe case of pneumonia.
“I had been coughing so hard and I was convinced I had cracked a rib,” she said.
But when she examined herself, she found a lump in one of her breasts. Her doctor quickly arranged for a mammogram and her subsequent breast cancer diagnosis sent her to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, where she knew several doctors.
“I wanted to have a mastectomy and reconstruction at the same time,” said Alger, explaining the steps she took toward recovery.
Surgery was followed by four rounds of chemotherapy and then radiation for another seven weeks.
Alger was able to have chemotherapy at MGH in Danvers, which she described as a “beautiful center” that overlooks the nearby marshland.
“The staff there is wonderful,” she said
She finished radiation treatments in mid-August 2018, takes daily maintenance medication and has remained cancer-free for more than two years now.
In her family, there was no history of breast cancer or other cancers. The cause of her breast cancer is unknown, but Alger has her suspicions.
“I was probably overstressed. Our business was very challenging and I probably let that become more of a focus than my health,” she said. “It was a real wake-up call for me, a sign I needed balance and that self-care and wellness has to be a priority.
“In business, I took things personally. But what’s really important is your family, friends and your health.”
Alger said she committed herself mentally to beating breast cancer, vowing to remain positive and to surround herself with upbeat people — both of which she said are key to recovery.
She also joined an online group with others who started treatment at the same time she did. Together, they became friends and formed a support circle, she said.
Her experience with breast cancer led to an awakening in her life itself.
“I learned to slow down more,” she said. “Before, I felt the next thing was as important as the last. ... Be mindful of what you have. I embraced that tremendously after my diagnosis. Just be mindful and grateful for what you have. ... Live in the moment and enjoy it. I think that’s what helped me the most.”
Alger also advocated for herself, researching different treatments and types of chemotherapy. She’d walk into doctor’s offices with a notebook filled with questions.
“Doctors really like educated patients,” she said. “And when you ask the questions, then you can discuss things with your family.”
She added, “I always encourage people to be ‘your best advocate.’”
Alger said she continues to discover there are many breast cancer success stories to be told. But too often, she said, these accounts go unspoken and unheard.
Women today are more proactive with self-care, and breast cancer diagnoses are being made earlier than ever before, so there’s plenty of reason to be optimistic if facing the disease, she said.
“Going through treatment is hard, but it is a phase. Give it 100% and put it in the rearview mirror,” she said. “Surround yourself with positive energy. See the good sides of something. I have a friend that believes that glass is not half full, but three-quarters full.”
Going forward, in addition to being grateful, she’s trying to live and enjoy each day in the moment.
“I like the person I am today more than the person I was when I was diagnosed,” she said. “I still sweat the small stuff, but I don’t sweat it that much. I don’t beat myself up because it’s not worth it.”