Peterborough’s Sarah McNeilly is feeling the love in a very big way

Friends, colleagues rally round artist, actress and musician as she deals with the harsh reality of a breast cancer diagnosis at 31

Performer Sarah McNeilly with her partner Spencer Allen at The Sapphire Room in downtown Peterborough. Proceeds from a crowdfunding campaign and two benefit events will help support Sarah, who was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly after her 31st birthday. (Photo courtesy of Andy Carroll).
Performer Sarah McNeilly with her partner Spencer Allen at The Sapphire Room in downtown Peterborough. Proceeds from a crowdfunding campaign and two benefit events will help support Sarah, who was diagnosed with breast cancer shortly after her 31st birthday. (Photo courtesy of Andy Carroll).

It’s a familiar script that’s as heartwarming as it is predictable: the Peterborough’s arts community coming together in a very big way to help one of its own.

Peterborough artist, actress and musician Sarah McNeilly has felt the love in a very big way the past few weeks. Recently diagnosed with breast cancer, Sarah, 31, has since been overwhelmed by the support shown her and her partner Spencer Allen; an outpouring of concern and love that has seen not one but two fundraising benefits organized and scheduled, the proceeds of which will help her with expenses during what looms as some very challenging days ahead.

If that’s not enough, an online gofundme.com campaign has seen close to $17,000 donated in just 10 days — well in excess of the campaign’s $10,000 goal.

“It’s beautiful … it’s very humbling,” notes a grateful Sarah.

“It’s really nice to know I will be able to pay for my medication and my partner won’t have to get a second job,” she adds. “It certainly comes with a relief.”

“More than that, it’s just really, really lifted my spirits. Just to feel that supported and that loved is really boosting me and preparing me for battle.”

 Sarah McNeilly performing as Dana Scully in an original stage adaptation of "The X-Files", along with Spencer Allen (photo courtesy of Andy Carroll
Sarah McNeilly performing as Dana Scully in an original stage adaptation of The X-Files, along with Spencer Allen (photo courtesy of Andy Carroll)
Sarah McNeilly performing with friend and colleague Em Glasspool in "The X-Files"; Em organized the GoFundMe campaign for Sarah and is co-organizing one of the two benefits to raise funds for Sarah's living expenses and medical bills while she undergoes treatment (photo courtesy of Andy Carroll)
Sarah McNeilly performing with friend and colleague Em Glasspool in The X-Files; Em organized the GoFundMe campaign for Sarah and is co-organizing one of the two benefits to raise funds for Sarah’s living expenses and medical bills while she undergoes treatment (photo courtesy of Andy Carroll)
For Gailie Young, one of the lead organizers of Love For Sarah — set for Sunday, June 5th from 2 to 11 p.m. at The Black Horse Pub (450 George Street North, Peterborough, 705-742-0633) — coming to Sarah’s aid was a no-brainer.

“She has to be one of the most amazing ladies I have ever met in my life,” gushes Gailie.

“She’s genuine. She’s upbeat. She’s honest. She’s loving. She’s happy. I don’t know one person who does not like Sarah.”

Gailie should know. With her husband Rick, she has performed for several years now at The Black Horse where Sarah is employed as a server.

When she heard of Sarah’s diagnosis, Gailie wasted no time in jumping to her support.

“I immediately went to Ray (Black Horse owner Ray Kapoor), and he and I started talking about it. He said ‘We’ve got to do a benefit,’ and I said, ‘You’re damn right,'” notes Gailie.

“I knew who I wanted (to perform). I wanted bands that have played the Black Horse. They all know Sarah.”

That effort had brought forth an impressive musical lineup.

Scheduled to perform, in no particular order, are The Rick and Gailie Band, Bobby Watson and Kate Kelly, The Don McBride Band, Al Black and The Steady Band, Pop Machine, The Fabulous Tonemasters, The Wylie Harold Band, House Brand, The Rob Phillips Band and Randy Hill. Former longtime local radio news personality George Gall will emcee.

Sarah McNeilly performing in "The Gas Heart" (photo courtesy of Andy Carroll)
Sarah McNeilly performing in The Gas Heart (photo courtesy of Andy Carroll)
Sarah McNeilly on stage at The Spill in Peterborough with partner Spencer Allen (photo courtesy of Andy Carroll)
Sarah McNeilly on stage at The Spill in Peterborough with partner Spencer Allen (photo courtesy of Andy Carroll)
Sarah McNeilly doing improv at The Gordon Best in Peterborough with Lindsay Unterlander and Kenn Gibb (photo courtesy of Andy Carroll)
Sarah McNeilly doing improv at The Gordon Best in Peterborough with Lindsay Unterlander and Kenn Gibb (photo courtesy of Andy Carroll)

In addition, three weeks later, on Sunday, June 26th at the Market Hall Performing Arts Centre (140 Charlotte Street, Peterborough, 705-749-1146), the McNeilly Feely Fundraiser will be held from 2 to 5 p.m.

According to its co-organizer, Em Glasspool, her motivation is simple: Sarah is a friend and a theatre colleague. But there’s more to it than that — and it echoes Gailie’s sentiments almost to the letter.

“She is the kind of person who would be there for you no matter what,” says Em, who’s working on the event’s particulars with director, playwright and improv comedian Ray Henderson.

“She’s fiercely passionate,” Em says. “She has a fire; a really strong creative life force. She’s incredibly strong and vibrant. I’m just really drawn to her as a person.”

Among those scheduled to perform at the McNeilly Feely Fundraiser are members of The Citiots improv comedy troupe, Linda Kash, Meg O’Sullivan, Kate Suhr, Evangeline Gentle, and Pretty Handsome featuring Jean Greig (Pretty) and Em (Handsome). More acts are expected to be added as the date draws nearer.

As Em puts it, “It’s going to be a huge awesome party day.”

Em is also behind the GoFundMe crowdfunding com campaign, which can be accessed at www.gofundme.com/25cyxztf. She terms the response “unbelievable,” adding, “That’s a credit to Sarah; who she is and how much she gives to the community. Her spirit, her energy. That’s why that’s happened. She herself has said, ‘OK, that’s enough.'”

Sarah McNeilly and Em Glasspool (holding banner) and Kate Story (holding umbrella) are board members of Mysterious Entity (photo courtesy of Jill Walker)
Sarah McNeilly and Em Glasspool (holding banner) and Kate Story (holding umbrella) are board members of Mysterious Entity (photo courtesy of Jill Walker)
"My debut as a Mysterious Festivus Cigarette Girl (drinking on the job!)" - Sarah McNeilly at Mysterious Festivus 2015  (photo courtesy of Andy Carroll)
“My debut as a Mysterious Festivus Cigarette Girl (drinking on the job!)” – Sarah McNeilly at Mysterious Festivus 2015 (photo courtesy of Andy Carroll)
Sarah McNeilly supporting the arts community as a fashion model at the 2015 Wearable Art Show, a fundraiser for Public Energy  (photo courtesy of Andy Carroll)
Sarah McNeilly supporting the arts community as a fashion model at the 2015 Wearable Art Show, a fundraiser for Public Energy (photo courtesy of Andy Carroll)

For Sarah, what has transpired over the past few weeks is slowly sinking in.

“It’s all very new right now but I’m in surprisingly good spirits,” she says.

“I’ve been undergoing tests over the last week and a bit to determine the staging and how to treat it. Hopefully this will be the most nerve-wracking part of this journey. I tend to be a bit of a control freak, very action-oriented. The question marks and the waiting around is hard … let’s get this show on the road.”

“It’s quite rare for a woman my age to be diagnosed with breast cancer,” Sarah addds.

“It certainly was never on my radar. We tend to think of it as an older woman’s disease. I found out two weeks after my (31st) birthday. That’s been my running joke: ‘What did you get for your birthday? Cancer!’ My sense of humour and my friends have been getting me through this. Sometimes in life all you can do is laugh.”

Helping Sarah cope with the shock of her diagnosis has been her work as stage manager for the staging of the Mysterious Entity Theatre’s presentation of The Blind Eye, which is directed by Em, on Wednesday, June 1st to Saturday, June 4th.

“I’m also directing another show right now,” notes Sarah.

“It’s just incredible to see how necessary the arts really is in our lives. It really has been arts therapy lately … to be able to still feel normal. I’m just resolved to do what I can until I no longer can.”

For those who can’t make either benefit, donation jars are in place at The Black Horse Pub and The Garnet (231 Hunter Street West, Peterborough, 705-874-8463), or you can donate to Sarah’s fund at >www.gofundme.com/25cyxztf.

 Sarah McNeilly and Shivaan Burke (photo courtesy of Andy Carroll)

Sarah McNeilly and Shivaan Burke (photo courtesy of Andy Carroll)
"My sense of humour and my friends have been getting me through this. Sometimes in life all you can do is laugh." - Sarah McNeilly  (photo courtesy of Andy Carroll)
“My sense of humour and my friends have been getting me through this. Sometimes in life all you can do is laugh.” – Sarah McNeilly (photo courtesy of Andy Carroll)
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Paul Rellinger
Paul Rellinger a.k.a Relly is an award-winning journalist and longtime former newspaper editor still searching for the perfect lead. When he's not putting pen to paper, Paul is on a sincere but woefully futile quest to own every postage stamp ever issued. A rabid reader of history, Paul claims to know who killed JFK but can't say out of fear for the safety of his oh so supportive wife Mary, his three wonderful kids and his three spirited grandchildren. Paul counts among his passions Peterborough's rich live music scene, the Toronto Maple Leafs, slopitch and retrieving golf balls from the woods. You can follow Paul on Twitter at @rellywrites.

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