HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - After facing the difficult reality that University of Southern Mississippi women's basketball coach Joye Lee-McNelis was fighting cancer, Tuesday brought as good news as circumstances would allow.
Lee-McNelis learned that a biopsy on a second growth, which is on a trapezoid muscle, was benign, meaning she would not have to go through a chemotherapy protocol before her scheduled surgery in a month to remove the contained malignancy in the upper lobe of her left lung.
And, perhaps, near as welcome for a woman who has spent the better part of her life on a basketball court, Lee-McNelis returned to practice Tuesday and intends to coach the Lady Eagles the remainder of the season.
Lee-McNelis, a former standout player and top assistant coach at USM under Hall of Fame coach Kay James, is in her 25th year as a head coach, including 13 years at her alma mater.
"Today, I was blessed with some great news," McNelis said in a text Tuesday evening. "The mass that was found on my right trap muscle is benign. This means I will not have to any chemo treatments and will allow us to follow the plan (of treatment) that was set last week."
Lee-McNelis had been missing from the sidelines for three of the Lady Eagles' past four games as she underwent testing and waited on the results of a pair of biopsies.
She had not been on the sidelines during USM's win on Feb. 9 over the University of Texas-San Antonio for what was described as "personal health reasons."
She returned two days later for the Lady Eagles' Feb. 11 victory over the University of Texas-El Paso, but on Feb. 14, USM initially announced in a release on Feb. 14 that Lee-McNelis would take a leave of absence to treat non-small cell lung cancer.
The release said Lee-McNelis had been hospitalized with chest discomfort the week of Feb. 7, and that tests revealed a small mass in the upper lobe of her left lung. She was diagnosed with contained Adenocarcinoma.
She did not travel with the team on a two-game road swing through Florida, as the Lady Eagles' picked up a pair of Conference USA road wins at Florida International University and Florida Atlantic University under the guidance of first-year USM assistant Kiley Hill.
Hill also had assumed head coaching duties in Lee-McNelis' absence in the home win against UTSA.
USM (18-9, 10-5 C-USA) will wrap up the regular season with three homes games at Green Coliseum, starting at 6 p.m. Thursday against Rice University. The Lady Eagles, who have four consecutive games and seven of their last eight, finish out at 4 p.m. Saturday by hosting North Texas University and 6 p.m. on March 3 against Louisiana Tech.
Lee-McNelis said Tuesday that she intended to be on the sidelines through the regular season as well as postseason play.
"I was back in action (Tuesday), and will be," Lee-McNelis said in a text.
About 40 percent of lung cancers are adenocarcinomas and are more common in women than men. McNelis said that she has been scheduled for surgery March 22 "to remove the contained, malignant tumor along with the upper lobe of left lung."
In last week's release, Lee-McNelis complimented her team on its focus and that she intended to display the same resolve in the upcoming weeks.
"I am really proud of how this team has over achieved this year and how they'd fought extremely hard," Lee-McNelis said in the release. "In return, I will have the same fight as I face this adversity over the next few weeks. I know that God is in control and, with the prayers of many, good things will come."
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