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‘I’ve been able to push through’: Southern Miss’ McNelis provides update on cancer battle

Joye Lee-McNelis (Photo courtesy of USM Athletics)

Southern Miss women’s basketball coach Joye Lee-McNelis is keeping her spirits high as she undergoes a series of treatments after a recent rediagnosis of lung cancer.

Following over two years of clear scans, McNelis’ battle with lung cancer reared its ugly head once more last month. The longtime Lady Eagles coach has battled the illness on and off since 2017 and has had multiple procedures done to eradicate the disease from her body.

The most recent medical operation performed on McNelis involved surgeons cutting out a portion of bone and removing tissue around the coach’s heart. It was then discovered that her cancer was malignant, meaning it could spread through the blood or lymphatic system.

“I ended up having to have surgery. They compared it to open-heart surgery where they had to go in, remove some bone and remove some tissue around my heart. That’s when we found out that it was malignant,” McNelis said on The Eagle Hour. “It’s been a shock to be very honest with you. With God’s grace and support and prayers, I’ve been able to push through.”

The first two days after McNelis’ initial round of chemotherapy went well, but the following few days brought a bout of major nausea and fatigue. Nevertheless, she found her way back to the office to prepare her team for the upcoming season.

McNelis is set to undergo her second of four rounds of chemotherapy on Wednesday and is expected to be done with chemo altogether by the end of November. With taking a hiatus from coaching out of the equation,  McNelis is working to have treatments scheduled around games to give her time to rest and recover.

Going into her 20th year at the helm in Hattiesburg, McNelis will be leaning heavily on her assistant coaches to facilitate practices while she rests up for game nights.

“I’ve got a great staff. I’ve got two new coaches in Jessica Barber and Barbara Farris. Both have a lot of college experience. Barbara Farris has WNBA experience, and so them alone with Jack Trosper, they’ve done an amazing job,” Mcnelis said. “I couldn’t do it without them.”

In the meantime, McNelis is using her circumstances to encourage other cancer patients. On top of the team’s annual Lung Cancer Awareness game against Ole Miss on Dec. 2, McNelis and the university have partnered with the Hospital Patient Navigation Program at Forest General to raise money for those battling the disease.

“All I want to do is let others know that we all go through it, but let’s just fight together and look to God and give God praise for it all,” McNelis said.

Southern Miss will also be hosting its Play4Kay game on Feb. 1 against Louisiana. The yearly initiative that college programs across the nation partake in has helped raise over $8 million to support cancer research since 2007.

The Lady Eagles will look to repeat as Sun Belt champions when the 2023-24 season begins on Nov. 1 against Mississippi College.

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