Lung cancer has returned for Southern Miss women’s basketball coach Joye Lee-McNelis, announced by the university on Thursday.
McNelis, going into her 20th year at the helm in Hattiesburg, has battled lung cancer on and off since 2017 when the disease was first discovered in her body. She then underwent surgery to remove her lungs’ upper left lobe. In 2020, the same adenocarcinoma returned before going into remission.
Despite the most recent stage 4 diagnosis, McNellis plans to continue coaching the Lady Eagles this upcoming season while undergoing treatment at the Forrest Health Cancer Center in Hattiesburg.
“I am truly blessed to have my family and many prayer warriors that have impacted my life in a great way,” McNelis said in an official statement. “I believe that with God’s help and His gifts of strength, that I can push through and be an example for others. It is important to me to demonstrate to my players that life is going to throw us curveballs sometimes, but you’ve always got to show up and hit them.”
McNelis sat down with her players after a PET scan on Aug. 14 revealed areas of activity in her lung. An excisional biopsy showed other microscopic spots that were not detected in the original scans. She began one of four treatment cycles on Thursday and has “responded well.”
The longtime coach is using the most recent diagnosis to provide assistance to 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.
“As I have gone through this battle with cancer, I have learned about so many other people in our community that have no way to get to their treatments,” McNelis continued. “It is important to me that we raise funds to help them in their fight against cancer.”
“I know of a gentleman who is 91 years old who drives one hour to his treatment and returns home. He has no family or anyone else to assist him in his travels and he is not alone in having this problem. That is why the Navigation Program is so dear to my heart. It can benefit these individuals and many others. It is important that we let these cancer patients know that they are not in this fight alone.”
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.