Lindy Hop For Life: 24-Hour Cancer Dance-A-Thon, March 14-15, 2009

THANK YOU to all who helped raise funds for cancer research and treatment!

On March 14-15, 2009, I participated in the 24-Hour Cancer Dance-A-Thon in Irving, CA, dancing on a team of San Francisco Lindy Hoppers — The Hot Bloods. The Dance-a-thon is a 24 hour swing dance fundraiser, with a mission to raise money for cancer research and treatment at City of Hope Hospital. The event is like a walk-a-thon except that instead of walking, participants raise money by swing dancing! All participants, DJs, bands and instructors at the event are volunteers.

This cause is especially dear to me because my mom, Eulalia Rego, passed away from ovarian cancer on January 2, 2009. All of my fundraising efforts are dedicated to her memory.

You can read the wrap-up of my dance-a-thon experience on my Swing or Nothing! Blog.

Below, I have included pictures and a memorial write-up about my mom for lack of space on my official dance-a-thon page.

In Loving Memory of Eulalia Rego

September 8, 1950 – January 2, 2009

Mom & Nathan at Relay for LifeMom, Dad & NathanMom as a snowboarder

A few weeks before my mom passed away, I sat down at home with my mom, Eulalia Rego, and slowly looked through an old photo album with her, one that I had never seen before. I saw black and white photos of my mom as a little girl, along with her sisters, brother, father, mother and relatives. I saw my mom as a flower girl, and then later pictures of her when she was traveling between Africa, Goa and the United States. I don’t claim to remember all the names and faces she mentioned – my attention was fixed on the pictures of her – but the experience of thumbing through that album with my mom raised in me the sense that the woman sitting next to me – who I had seen primarily through the eyes of a son and had come to know as “Mom” – had actually been much more than that to many other people.

The experience reminded me of a story I had read called Little Selves. It was about a seventy-five year old woman, who on her deathbed relives all the memories of her life…and all the “little selves” she had been. Who had my mother been? Who was Eulalia Rego? Who were all of my mom’s little selves?

Eulalia was daughter to Maria Rosa & Leonardo Rego. From a young age, Eulalia was a dependable and hard-working daughter, helping both her mother and father with the operations of their family businesses. She was older sister to Judy, Perry and Maria. As a child, Eulalia could be both slightly mischievous, while at the same time playing the role of the protective older sister, for example as she would drag her younger siblings to a questionable part of town to meet her favorite playmates, but sternly warned them: “Nobody tell daddy!” At other times, she could be the ringleader of the girls…for instance if Perry was in trouble and needed to be rounded up, Eulalia had a strategic plan, instructing Judy to flank him on the left, Maria on the right, while she went down the center to capture him.

Mom with her momMom as a little girlMom & siblings

When it came to looking after her sisters and brother, Eulalia always had a fierce determination to do things The Right Way. Despite being ill, she flew to North Carolina, to celebrate Perry’s 50th birthday along with Maria and Judy. Late in the evening, they realized that they had only one candle for the birthday cake, but that wasn’t good enough for Eulalia. Late at night, she took the girls out in the car, battling with freezing weather and snow covered streets and finally came back with something that was acceptable…they celebrated Perry’s birthday with a cake full of 50 candles. She didn’t want to cut any corners.

Eulalia was a friend, imaginative child and adventurer. In a letter to my dad, Eulalia’s childhood friend Zenobia described the walks they would take through the streets of Kenya…and she enumerated all the creative excuses my mom made up to convince her to sneak away and take a walk off the beaten path. I learned that my mom came up with the brilliant idea of cloud racing in the Kenyan grass expanses…a feat which involved running from one end a giant cloud’s shadow to the other.

Eulalia was wife to Oscar Dias. My dad has often described his first encounters with my mom in that she was not only beautiful, but he felt immediately comfortable with her. According to him, what made Eulalia a great wife was that for however many minor squabbles they had over the years, when it came down to what they cherished most in their lives – their children, their families and their friends – they were always on the same page. My dad remembers her as a private person, brave and selfless. In her battle with cancer, he felt that she always downplayed how she was feeling to spare him or anyone of us any suffering. Oscar respects her independent spirit. He notes that the song she claimed as her favorite early on in their marriage — “I did it my way” by Frank Sinatra — is now one of his favorites too.
Mom looking like Marilyn MonroeWedding DayMom & DadMom & Dad
Eulalia was a hardworking employee and co-worker, who left an impression on the people she worked with. One of these people she met in the workplace, Liz Wong, remarked how she came in as a temporary employee to take over a position as Liz prepared for maternity leave. Eulalia – or Lia as she was usually known at work – was friendly, eager to learn, and ready to tackle anything.  She was a diligent worker and this was evident as Lia stayed on as a permanent employee when Liz returned.

More than that, Liz recalled my mom as “a great friend, [someone with] a positive outlook on life, and a big heart. Lia was the type of person who was always willing to listen to your troubles, and would always have one of two responses. She would either say, 1) “everything will work out” or 2) she would share the humor of the situation and turn the conversation into something “funny”, making you forget whatever was bothering you in the first place.

Eulalia was a mother and caregiver to myself, Rosemarie and Rowland. She was the one who held our hands as children, taught us to tie our shoes, dressed us for school, made our lunches, patiently removed bee stings and thorns from our fingers, bandaged up our scrapes and cuts and played referee to our 3-way sibling rivalries. She helped us manage our chores and extracurricular schedules and drove us to games and practices – in my case often waking up as early as 4:30 in the morning for early morning rowing practices.

With only a high school education herself, Eulalia worked tirelessly so that we could each have the best education possible. Though the three of us children each had our differences with mom at times, we knew one thing for certain and that was that if we ever had an argument with DAD, mom would be right there in a heartbeat to take our side and defend us…even if dad was probably right. In her final days, my mom often emphasized that she loved all three of her children equally, each in different ways, but not any one of us more than the other.

For four years, Eualia was a cancer survivor. Although she felt her share of fear, sadness and frustration over her terminal illness, most who knew her would agree that she met those challenges with a stoic patience, grace and courage. She accepted the circumstances that God gave her, and as she faced a frightening maze of medical decisions, she took a practical attitude: what decision needed to be made now? What was the next step she had to take in order to live?

Eulalia was a nature lover and an outdoorsperson. She loved to go camping, hiking and walking. Echoing childhood stories, I’ve heard she would tell friends to come along with her saying, “oh this walk is just 5 minutes long” only to find themselves still walking an hour later.

Eulalia liked to garden. I think there was a direct correlation between the severity of my mom’s illness and the blossoming of plants and flowers around our family’s home. All of a sudden there were roses in the front, flowers in the back…a new organic vegetable planter. Some of my mom’s favorite plants were her orchids…flowers that she rescued from being discarded at work, which she then patiently nursed back to health.

Eulalia was a voracious reader, and like the flowers blossoming around our home, so too the shelves around our home filled up with her books. Among an eclectic collection of fiction, romance, and adventure stories you could also find a healthy smattering of self-help books. With titles like: Excavating your Authentic Self and Your Life in Your Hands, I believe that my mom always had a strong drive toward self-improvement and betterment. She honestly wanted to understand people and herself.

These were just a few of Eulalia’s little selves: daughter, sister, friend, co-worker, wife, mother, cancer survivor, nature-lover, gardener, reader…and she was certainly many more little selves to many other people: cousin, aunt, sister-in-law, godmother, niece, playmate, mentor, confidant and more. There are stories in each of our hearts and minds that would take another lifetime to recount. Eulalia lived her own rich and full life, and she lived it “her way.” It was cut shorter than any of us wished for. With wry sense of humor, she joked that God was dyslexic and that the plan was to take her at age 85 not 58. Still, let us all feel fortunate for the time we did spend with her. May we always cherish our memories of her and let Eulalia’s spirit live on in our hearts and minds.