Scott Wentzky smiled broadly along with Hollings researcher Evan Graboyes, MD, and his family at the Why I Ride wall, after crossing the finish line of LOWVELO 2021 on November 6. It was a well-deserved moment to pause and celebrate at the annual event that raises money for life-saving cancer research at MUSC Hollings Cancer Center.
Weeks before the event, Scott formed a team called Riding for Rayna in honor of his sister, Rayna Wentzky, a Hollings patient. What he didn’t know when he signed up for LOWVELO was that one of Rayna’s surgeons, Evan Graboyes, MD, an oncologist and researcher of Holling’s head and neck cancer, would be joining the team. The two rode together for part of the 10-mile route across the island, despite brutal winds, rain and frigid temperatures.
“Dr. Graboyes who joins our team shows that this is more than just a job for him,” said Scott. “Doctors and patients form a bond, especially when it comes to cancer. one of the surgeons who works with my sister.”
Rayna, 45, has been through more in their lives than most people will. Rayna was first diagnosed with brain cancer when she was just 8 years old. Twenty years later, the cancer returned. To this day, doctors continue to monitor her brain tumors to make sure they are not growing.
Graboyes with Rayna Wentzky, Scott Wentzky and their father. Photo by Josh Birch
Scott said there is a joke in the family about how lucky he is to never have had cancer. Scott and Rayna’s mother died in 2016 of small cell lung cancer, the same type of cancer their father struggled with — but defeated. They’ve had uncles with cancer, aunts with cancer, cousins with cancer, and friends with cancer. “Cancer affects everyone,” he said. “Sometimes you don’t even know.”
Rayna’s cancer journey took her from her home near Rock Hill, South Carolina, to Hollings in 2020 after she developed skin cancer on her head. The skin cancer has been removed, but complications have arisen as Rayna’s scalp has already gone through so much trauma, with numerous surgeries and radiation treatments over the years to treat her brain cancer.
“It’s been hard, but we’re so impressed with Hollings,” said Scott. “From the nurses to the doctors to the ladies who work the scheduling desk — everyone was incredible.”
During one of Rayna’s treatments or during one of the six-hour car journeys from their home to Hollings, Scott felt compelled to do something more. He wanted to support Hollings and signed up for LOWVELO. “If I know that some of that money can benefit some of Rayna’s surgeons and doctors, I want to do even more,” he said. So far this year he has raised over $1,500 for Hollings. “If this is something small I can do to help, why shouldn’t I?”
While visiting Graboyes, Scott mentioned that he drove and teamed up in Rayna’s honor. Weeks later Graboyes, his wife and their children joined him on the LOWVELO course. It’s a personal touch and a way to support a patient beyond his or her actual cancer care, Graboyes said.
Wentzky and Graboyes ride the 10-mile island route together on LOWVELO21. Photo provided
“A lot of my patients are really at their lowest point when they meet me,” Graboyes said. “They have been diagnosed with cancer. Some have had months of treatment and extensive surgery. It is important to me to be able to serve as a support system for them. That is one of the reasons why I chose this profession.”
It’s also what he tries to model for his three young children, who also came in the rain and cold for LOWVELO21. Graboyes said he’s lucky to be dropped off in the car with them every day, and they tell him as he leaves, “Daddy, go be with your people.”
Graboyes has been involved with LOWVELO since its inception in 2019, but this was his first year riding it. As a researcher, he felt he should participate.
“Research is impossible without funding,” he explains. “The innovative research at Hollings translates into better treatments and new drugs to help our cancer patients. I’ve received funding from Hollings for some of my startup research projects that wouldn’t have taken off otherwise. Sometimes all researchers need is a little support and funding to lead to the next big breakthrough in cancer care.”
As Rayna’s cancer journey continues, Scott said the support his family has already received from Hollings has been incredible. He said Saturday’s ride with Graboyes shows how invested in their patients Hollings’ care team is and how hard the doctors and researchers work every day to find a cure for cancer.
“I’m just really inspired. Rayna’s journey has been a long one for all of us, but we have no choice but to move forward,” Scott said. “The other option is to give up, and we’re not going to do that.”