Pink Up: USM coach Joye Lee-McNelis honored with fellow cancer survivors at Final Four

Published: Apr. 7, 2023 at 7:36 PM CDT
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HATTIESBURG, Miss. (WDAM) - You see it every year on basketball courts, softball fields all over the country – from high schools to colleges.

It’s more than just a fashion choice. The color pink raises awareness and raises money for breast cancer research.

Since 2007, The Kay Yow Cancer Fund has awarded over $8.1 million in the fight against all cancers affecting women.

2007 marked the season when Naismith Hall of Fame basketball coach Kay Yow founded what’s become a national grassroots movement.

“She believed in the power of the sports community and she was such a servant leader,” said Jenny Palmateer, Kay Yow Cancer Fund chief executive officer.

“To see now her vision of uniting this community in the fight against cancer come to fruition has been simply remarkable.”

University of Southern Mississippi women’s basketball coach Joye Lee-McNelis continues to fight her battle with a lung cancer diagnosed in 2017.

The coaching world is a small one, so for McNelis to be honored with her colleagues and fellow cancer survivors at the recent NCAA Women’s Final Four was a privilege and a reminder she’s not alone.

“When they called out the survivors and we walked out there and people stood as they knew people that were battling breast cancer, I’m telling you it made the hair on your arm stand up,” McNelis said.

“If you’re a survivor in the arena, stand,” Palmateer recalled. “And women stood. And if you know somebody or a loved one that is battling, stand. And I tell you by the end, almost the whole place is standing and it’s just such a moving moment. A reminder of our why we’re doing what we’re doing.

“It was neat to be able to honor Coach McNelis and the others that were there with her because they lead the way and they’re so courageous and they provide strength to so many through their own battle.”

McNelis inspires those around her every day.

Now, she said she’s hoping to help a former player dearest to her.

Former USM All-American Janice Felder was diagnosed with breast cancer just a month ago, McNelis said. giving her testimony to the Lady Eagles before the Sun Belt Conference Tournament.

USM’s all-time leading scorer with 2,275 points, Felder often makes the trip from her hometown, Magnolia, to Hattiesburg to visit McNelis.

“To be able to walk through this journey with her, with her having breast cancer,” McNelis said. “You never know in life when you’re going to hear that word and it’s such a scary word.

“God has been very good to me. I do believe that he has given me the platform here to be able to be a witness and show others that you gotta fight. You gotta fight the fight. When He says He’s finished, then He is finished. I do not believe God is finished with me yet.”

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