Barbara Carlson has been diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer and given three to six months to live, but that doesn’t mean that the former member of the Minneapolis City Council and radio talk show host is going down without putting up a fight — or, in her typical flamboyant style, making a splash.
The former starts Friday, when she begins the first of two rounds of chemotherapy. The latter took place Saturday when Carlson, 79, threw herself a party while she’s still healthy enough to enjoy it.
“This is not a funeral,” she insisted as she bounced around an elbow-to-elbow-packed room at the University Club in St. Paul joyously greeting people. “These are my favorite people, people I’ve known a long, long time. And this is the way I want to go out — surrounded by my family and my friends.”
Carlson’s definition of “friends” casts a very wide net. They ranged from college chums to fellow residents in her south Minneapolis apartment building.
“I went shopping with her the other day, and as we walked through the store, she was inviting the clerks,” said Harriet Horwitz, who has known Carlson for 30 years. “This is a whole spectrum of a life.”
Despite her upbeat demeanor, Carlson knows her future is not rosy, daughter Anne Carlson said. She’s already made arrangements for hospice care should it become necessary.
“In reality, she’ll never see the majority of these people [who were at the party] again,” her daughter said.
But from the family’s perspective, that only enhanced the festivities.
“This is a celebration,” Anne Carlson said. “She’s having fun hearing from and spending time with people she hasn’t seen for a long time.”
A band played, and there was dancing. There was food and drink. There was even a guest in a silly costume. It wasn’t morbid in the least.
“It’s the right attitude,” son Tucker Carlson said of the mood. “Why spend lots of money on a funeral when the person you’re celebrating is in a casket?”
Indeed, the only person mentioning death was Barbara Carlson.
“This is my way of going out with a bang,” she said.
Her friends expected no less. Carlson, who used her 1990s radio talk show to address topics from her alcoholism to her sex life, has never been described as reserved.
“I think it [the party] was a great idea,” said Walter “Rocky” Rockenstein, who served on the Minneapolis City Council with Carlson in the 1980s. “Let’s have a blast.”
Carlson, a former smoker, battled lung cancer four years ago but thought she had beaten it. During the holidays, she started having trouble breathing and, returning to the doctors, got the bad news: The medical profession will do what it can, but the odds are heavily stacked against her.
She insisted that she still has things she wants to do — and they don’t all fit in with the doctors’ predictions about her life expectancy.
“My granddaughter is getting married in two years, and I want to be at the wedding,” she said. “And I really, really, really want to live long enough to vote against Trump again.”
But Saturday was all about enjoying herself.
“Yes, I’m dying, but I’m happy,” she insisted. “I have my friends. What more could I want?”