LOWVELO21's top fundraiser shares tips on fundraising and battling cancer

March 08, 2022
Jenny McKay (3rd from left) said her mother Sue (3rd from right) inspired her to get involved in raising money for cancer research. Photo provided
Jenny McKay (3rd from left) said her mother Sue (3rd from right) inspired her to get involved in raising money for cancer research. Photo provided

If there’s one way to describe Jenny McKay, it’s that she’s a fighter. The apple doesn’t fall far from the family tree. Her entire family perseveres through tough times, and there have been a lot of tough times. Cancer has touched almost everyone in her family, from her mom and dad to siblings and cousins. Despite it all, she remains optimistic about cancer research and care and what is possible, thanks to the work of MUSC Hollings Cancer Center.

“I don’t think enough is said about how fortunate we are to have something like Hollings in our community,” McKay said. “When I moved to South Carolina 30 years ago, we didn’t have a cancer center, let alone a National Cancer Institute-designated cancer center.”

McKay doesn’t just talk the talk – she also walks the walk. She was the top fundraiser for LOWVELO21, raising a whopping $30,450 for the annual bike ride event that supports lifesaving cancer research at Hollings. She also serves as a Hollings board member. The battle against cancer is a personal mission for McKay – one that began when she was just a child.

“My mom was diagnosed with melanoma just months after my 41-year-old aunt died from melanoma,” McKay said. “One of the most valuable things my mom has shown me over the years is how big a difference a positive attitude can make. She’s never let cancer defeat her. It seems incumbent on me to give back to the fight against this disease because of what I’ve learned from her in the face of such grim odds.”

Jenny's mother, Susan Sullivan 
McKay's mother, Susan Sullivan

McKay’s mother, Susan Sullivan, is now 84 and lives in Florida. To date, she’s had 29 different melanoma tumors removed, two of which had metastasized. In 1989, her mother participated in an experimental National Institutes of Health treatment trial. She was the only participant to live.

McKay understands that her genetics place her at a higher risk of developing skin and other cancers. That’s why she focuses her attention on taking steps within her control to reduce the risk of cancer.

“There’s nothing that I can do about the genes I inherited. What I can do is live an active lifestyle, eat healthy and get checked for cancer regularly. Those are things that I can control.”

McKay shares the importance of maintaining an active and healthy lifestyle to lower cancer risks with everyone she can. It’s one of the reasons she was so excited about LOWVELO when it first launched in 2019.

“LOWVELO is such an incredible event. It gets people together for a common cause and offers something for everyone, whether they are avid cyclists or just want to volunteer.”

McKay said good-hearted fundraising competition isn’t bad either. “It was fun to get in a competitive spirit with other top fundraisers like Dr. Gerard Silvestri, who finished about $300 behind me,” she said. “It’s all in good fun, though. The whole point is to raise as much money as possible to support the cause, so the more the merrier.”

McKay’s LOWVELO peloton, Suenami, was named in honor of her mother. She said her mom’s story is a testament to how far cancer care and research have come over the years. She knows there is still work to be done, which is why she encourages others to get involved in LOWVELO each year.

“I think raising funds is easier when you’re really passionate about what you’re doing,” she said. “For me, I sent emails to a bunch of people and told them about the event and why we were doing it. They were happy to give. I think that is one of the best tips I can give others who want to participate in LOWVELO and are nervous about fundraising. Cancer is a common enemy and something most people want to get involved in to fight back.”

McKay will be recognized as the top fundraiser at the LOWVELO awards banquet on March 7. At the end of the day, however, she feels as if everyone wins with LOWVELO’s mission to support cancer care and research at Hollings.

“I know as I age, and my kids age, that the likelihood of one of us being treated at Hollings for cancer is pretty high. I feel lucky to have a facility like that in Charleston and feel it is incumbent upon me to do what I can do to help support the cause and fight back against cancer.”