Arkells surprise cancer patient with personal backyard show

Juno-winning Hamilton band Arkells gave Jill Zitars a concert she'll never forget when they surprised her with a backyard show last week.

Jill Zitars' friends asked the Juno-winning Hamilton band to play for her in Waterloo

Waterloo's Jill Zitars (left) is seen here with her friend Kristin Kelly (right), who asked Hamilton rock band Arkells to come and play for her friend, who is undergoing chemotherapy treatments for Hodgkin’s lymphoma. (Jill Zitars)

July 6 was supposed to be a good day for Jill Zitars.

That was the day she was going to hit the halfway point of her treatment for stage two Hodgkin's lymphoma.

The 18-year-old had even planned a party at her parents' house in Waterloo, Ont. to celebrate — but things didn't work out that way.

Instead, bad news from her doctors. Her treatment wasn't progressing as they had hoped, and they would need to reassess her treatment plan.

The news hit hard. Since her diagnosis back in April, she's been struggling with the effects of her medications, dealing with the weakness and nausea.

"It has been really difficult," she told CBC News.

That blow didn't really leave her in a partying mood — luckily, her friends had a surprise in the form of a Juno-winning band that was happy to help out a fan.

Arkells members Max Kerman, Mike DeAngelis and Anthony Carone visited Zitars and her friends on July 6, making it a party after all.

"I was so shocked and overjoyed at the same time," Zitars said. "My friends were amazing."

It was her friend Kristin Kelly who led the charge, and wanted to do something to lift her friend's spirits. She reached out to the band on Snapchat (where they are very active) and they got back to her.

"She explained the situation, and told us how much it would mean to Jill if we came by," Arkells frontman Max Kerman told CBC News. "Whenever we can lend a helping hand, we like to do that."

"It's so easy for us to do something like this, it's just literally doing the thing we do all the time. But if it can make a difference and help somebody who is going through something really hard, then it's the obvious thing to do for us."

This wasn't something the band did with publicity on their minds. There was no press release or any fuss made about the private performance online. The only reason CBC News found out was through excited word of mouth.

Jill Zitars and here friends were treated to songs from the band's earlier albums, as well as from their upcoming record "Morning Report." (Jill Zitars)

Kerman said it was "very humbling" to see Zitars' reaction when they came through the side door at her parent's house. The band is one of her favourites — but this was the first time she ever got to see them live.

"We're humans, we're people. We haven't lost that sense of feeling of someone going out of their way to do a good deed," Kerman said.

The show (which included acoustic renditions from their back catalogue as well as tunes from the band's upcoming album, Morning Report) only cemented Zitars' fandom. "They're so down to earth," she said.

Zitars has plans to study at Laurier University in the fall, hoping to pursue psychology, and is also running an Etsy shop making custom pins.

And while she keeps making plans, she doesn't know exactly what the future holds. But, as her friends and the band helped prove, anything is possible.

"It was nothing you'd ever expect to happen."

adam.carter@cbc.ca

About the Author

Adam Carter

Reporter, CBC Hamilton

Adam Carter is a Newfoundlander who now calls Hamilton home. He enjoys a good story and playing loud music in dank bars. You can follow him on Twitter @AdamCarterCBC or drop him an email at adam.carter@cbc.ca.

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