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USM’s Joye Lee-McNelis making an impact and coaching through cancer

Updated: Mar. 19, 2021 at 11:00 AM CDT
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HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) - For Women’s History Month, WDAM is featuring Joye Lee-McNelis, the head women’s basketball coach at the University of Southern Mississippi, who continues to show up for her team even as she is battling cancer for the second time.

“There are some people that don’t get the opportunity to wake up and every morning when I wake up in my bed before I put my feet on the floor, I look to God and I say, ‘Thank you for a great night’s rest and thank you for giving me another day,’” said Lee-McNelis.

In January 2021, Lee-McNelis announced she was once again diagnosed with adenocarcinoma, non-small cell lung cancer.

“To know that your cancer is back, I mean I’m telling you, this time it bothered me,” Lee-McNelis said. “The last time I was like, ‘Okay, let’s get it done,’ and was like move on. But this time it really, really hit me that I could die you know, that it could be the end.”

Though, Lee-McNelis says she won’t allow cancer to hold her back.

“Cancer is not going to be my excuse for not being able to put one foot in front of the other,” Lee-McNelis said. “Hard work is all I know. Work ethic is very, very important to me and my parents taught us that. As someone battling lung cancer, I just don’t know that I could lead a group of women or be an inspiration to anyone if I stayed home every day. Sure, there are days I don’t feel the best, but I’m going to be here because of the opportunity that is given to me.”

Coaching the Golden Eagles since 2004, Lee-McNelis says being a role model to her players is extremely important to her.

“I can’t ever let someone down that is looking up for me to be their strength, because I think that’s very, very important,” Lee-McNelis said.

Lee-McNelis says she is thankful and grateful for all the support she’s received. From motivational wristbands to letters to a personalized t-shirt created by a former player and now sold on the Mississippi Golden Gurls’ website.

“The proceeds go to help cancer research, specifically for lung cancer,” Lee-McNelis said.

As many continue to help her, Lee-McNelis is also helping others by being an advocate for the Patient Navigation Program at the Forrest General Cancer Center. Donations can be made online or by texting ‘GIVE’ to 1-833-585-8650.

“It helps people, number one, pay for their treatments and it helps them get to treatments,” Lee-McNelis said. “It’s extremely important to me to help these people in some way so they can get those treatments. If you want to be a part of it, if you would just text that number, it will take you through the steps to be able to make donations.”

Lee-McNelis says she hopes to continue serving others, impact lives and leave a legacy. As to what’s next in her coaching career?

“I’m not retiring,” Lee-McNelis said. “I’m not dead, you know, I’m fine. I’m still able to recruit. I’m still able to be here every day and meet the needs of being the head coach. No. I am pressing on until God says, ‘It’s time for you to retire.’”

Lee-McNelis says she hopes to raise $10,000 for the Patient Navigation Program.

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