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Community surprises cancer patient with bell ringing send-off

Coronavirus precautions meant Barb Barlau couldn't celebrate the end of cancer treatment with family, so her neighborhood got creative.

MINNEAPOLIS — Surprise parties are nearly impossible to achieve in these times of social distancing, but a Northfield community found a way to pull off an unforgettable send-off on Tuesday, for a beloved neighbor battling brain cancer.

"In these times when we're trying to find something positive, we can still show support in many different ways," said Northfield Police Chief, Monte Nelson. "This is just one really good example."

Chief Nelson and several Northfield officers joined a line of cars that ran down Woodley St and Haywood Rd, while neighbors stood in their yards to take part in a special celebration - with plenty of separation - for Barb Barlau.

"We are going to cheer and ring bells for happiness and a life well-celebrated," said Sue Rodman, who organized the event in honor of her longtime friend and neighbor. 

Barlau, was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive form of brain cancer, in January. 

"To have my mom get a diagnosis like that was really, really heartbreaking," said Barb's daughter, Melissa Black, who was featured on KARE11 during her own breast cancer battle in 2019. 

Though the entire family, including grandkids, were ready to help lend support for another cancer fight, the coronavirus pandemic made visits and close connection impossible in recent weeks.

"I think it's really sad that we can't see her," said Barb's granddaughter, Tessa Goodman. "I miss her and I want to give her a hug," 

"She knows how important it is for people to stay away from each other but the isolation has been really hard on top of a diagnosis," said Barb's daughter, Michelle Goodman.

Because the family couldn't be there to help Barb ring the bell for her final radiation treatment on Tuesday, the family asked Sue Rodman if she could help bring the bells to her as she left town. That's exactly what dozens of people did.

For Barb, the gesture brought tears of happiness.

"I am just overwhelmed with all the love in my life and thank you so much. Thank you," she said. "Better days are coming, better days are coming. Thank you, thank you."

Before they left the driveway, Barb's husband, Mark Barlau, offered thanks as well.

"The reflection of all you being here today is a reflection of the Lord being here and supporting us as well," he said. "Thank you. Extremely much. Thank you."

As the car drove past to bells and honks, those who dotted the route said they were simply repaying the favor.

"To say they are deeply engrained in the community is kind of an understatement," chief Nelson said. "Mark was a police officer for almost 30 years with our police department, Barb ran our Allina Clinic."

"For all the times you've taken care of the community and how many people the both of you have helped, three cheers for the Barlaus, 'Hip, hip, hooray,'" Rodman yelled, as the crowd echoed cheers down the block. 

Up the road in Minneapolis a few hours later, Barb completed her last treatment, ringing the bell by herself.

When she walked out, her grandkids were there to greet her with cheers. A final surprise, at a safe distance of course.

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