'Glioblastoma Swim Team' drives for new outlook on life

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comDecember 1, 2012 

From right, friends Carolyn Trosdal, Patsy Hodge, Mary Vaux and Nancy Golson (not pictured), ride down Bridge Street in the Bluffton Holiday Parade on Saturday.


Carolyn Trosdal probably shouldn't be alive, much less riding in the Bluffton Christmas Parade.

The "Glioblastoma Swim Team" entry on Saturday was a vintage snapshot of Bluffton. The parade has brought out the town's silly side since nobody was there to watch it because everybody in town was in it.

Here were four well-known women, all leading citizens, dressed in swimsuits and fur coats and long white gloves, and Santa caps that said "Naughty" and "No Peeking." They waved and tossed candy from a black convertible decorated with pink stars, a blow-up dolphin and a banner identifying them as "Real Eggcentric Housewives of Bluffton." A banner on the back marked the 25th anniversary of the May River Montessori School, which two of them founded.

The revelry between Trosdal, Mary Vaux, Nancy Golson and Patsy Hodge was a celebration of the bond of friendship, forged stronger because one of them is in hand-to-hand combat with death.

Trosdal was diagnosed in April with stage four glioblastoma, a malignant brain tumor the size of a chicken egg, with a smaller tumor nearby. The best doctors said it was inoperable and that she may not see her 62nd birthday on Dec. 17.

It was a shock to everyone who knows her. She's the most energetic and fun-loving person in any group. She is known for good deeds, helping start the Church of the Cross Christmas Bazaar, and getting her Rotary Club to provide a well for a remote Afghanistan village. And she and her husband, Einar S. Trosdal III of Linden Plantation on the May River, have religiously pursued healthy eating and healthy living since they were married in 1981, a year after he lost his first wife, Ann, to colon cancer at age 37.

Carolyn's doctors at the Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke University Hospital in Durham, N.C., and the Memorial University Medical Center in Savannah have aggressively pursued her cancer. A checkup at Duke on Wednesday showed her tumor has not grown.

Following six weeks of chemotherapy and radiation in the spring, Carolyn was drained, sleeping 20 hours a day.

A night nurse in Savannah always woke her up saying, "Just remember, the bed is your enemy."

That's where the Glioblastoma Swim Team comes into the picture, and where the parade of life takes a new route.


Trosdal has more friends than there are fish in the river that flows by the large family compound bought by Einar Trosdal's father in 1957. They have a high dock that some of their three grown children and 10 grandchildren get up the nerve to jump from. It has long been a place where friends mix with family for Easter egg hunts, with Carolyn dressed as the bunny, and the annual polar bear dive on New Year's morning.

Mary Vaux tells about the time she set up a surprise dinner party for Carolyn's birthday. It turned out to be a cold and miserable day, and Carolyn called Mary at midday to ask if would be OK if she and Einar came in their pajamas. She had no idea that Mary and Roberts Vaux had invited her good friends, Babbie and Don Guscio, Joe and Alice Fraser and Billy and Nancy Roe. It was a party they won't forget. Everyone came in their pajamas.

When Carolyn started emerging from the stupor of chemotherapy this summer, Einar got her a three-wheeled cycle to ride up to the pool.

"All summer I would go swimming, and all these people would come over and swim with me and we would laugh and do all these fun things," Carolyn said Friday.

They came from her native Savannah, and all over Bluffton. It was a "Who's Who," someone said. They loved to reminisce. But they each left with a new perspective.

"We were just thinking, we have all been so blessed," Carolyn said, "yet we all felt complete urgency to do, do, do, do, do -- to do more and fix more, to fix the church, and everything that's wrong with the schools, the children, and the grandchildren, and the divorces.

"One day I just looked around and said, 'If I get to Heaven and I have to go talk to God and he says, 'Well look what I gave you. Look where you lived. Did you enjoy it?' And I have to say, 'No, because I was too busy mowing the lawn.' It was like, 'Get a grip, Carolyn. You're a very, very lucky lady and you need to appreciate this.' "


Carolyn and Einar said the lives we live are a conscious choice.

"We just decided at the pool that this actually was the first time we ever really lived life in a very appreciative way," Carolyn said. "For whatever reason, everybody comes with stuff. Their mothers might say, 'You don't have your Christmas tree skirt out yet?' We've all been working. I drove back and forth from Savannah every day for 20 years working (as a financial advisor). We all tried to do the best we could with our homes and our families and everything and we didn't really take time to appreciate what we had -- or appreciate our partners."

It changed the Trosdals' marriage.

"We just gave up trying to fix everybody else," she said. "We've always been fixers, and we've always been doers. We just decided that the thing we really wanted was peace of mind and if you have peace of mind, everything else falls into place after that."

She said faith has led her to peace. She said she has taken a great leap from faith in God to total trust in God.

She has battled denial. She has struggled with why cancer struck her, after she worked so hard to avoid it. But she is told that without the strength of her healthy lifestyle, she would not have lived a month. She said she will beat it. She said she's a star patient in rehabilitation.

December seemed a long way away when Carolyn told the ladies at the swimming pool that if she made it to December she wanted to ride in the Bluffton parade. They all agreed, and said they'd wear their bathing suits.

Patsy Hodge, who sat next to Carolyn in the parade, said, "She has taught me that in order to live, you can't be fearful."

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