The Southern Miss women’s basketball game against UAB on Saturday was clouded with the news that lung cancer had returned to head coach Joye Lee-McNelis.
McNelis announced that she was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer in Saturday’s pregame radio show.
McNelis, who is in her 17th season at Southern Miss, was previously diagnosed with lung cancer in the middle of the Lady Eagles’ 2017 basketball season after suffering from chest discomfort.
According to McNelis, she had been feeling more tired and less energetic than usual, which she believed to be the aftermath of battling COVID-19 during Thanksgiving. In early January, McNelis went to get her three-month checkup, in which she learned that she had fluid in the lining of her lung.
“It’s been kind of crazy,” McNelis said. “It started out with COVID, and I was really, really sick with COVID.
“I (then) went in for my three-month checkup from having lung cancer previously. There was fluid in the pleural area of my lung, which that is the lining of my lung. It had tripled with COVID.”
The Monday after the UTEP series, McNelis had a biopsy to recheck with the fluid, which was when she got the official news that she was diagnosed with cancer again and that the fluid was malignant.
“Where we are right now is that they took the biopsy from the fluid that is in the lining of my lung, and they sent it to Jackson to be able to see if they can match molecules from my first cancer to my second cancer,” McNelis said. “If they can match it, it goes through foundation one and is called a divisional mutation. That’s what the prayer has to be. That is so important because the treatments that I will have to take will not be as difficult. We want that treatment. We are not going to know for 10 business days.”
In addition to the malignant fluid, McNelis will have to travel to Dallas to receive further tests because of spots that have appeared on her back due to the cancer spreading into her muscles.
“They also found four more spots in the muscles on my back,” McNelis said. “Lung cancer does not go to the muscle, so that should not be going to the muscle. At some point, I will have to go to Dallas to be able to work with (a) doctor (and) for him to look at everything and evaluate.
“It’s challenging. It’s been very emotional for our family just because there is still a lot of unknown. It’s in the fluid and what scares you is that the fluid goes throughout your body. That makes it really scary. I just pray that a lot of people will continue to pray so that we can overcome this.”
McNelis told the team about her cancer on Thursday and said that she hopes that her fight against cancer will be a learning tool for her team and grandchildren.
“I am faced with a storm,” McNelis said. “What do I do? Do I let the storm engulf me? I can’t because I am at Southern Miss to help (them) develop every aspect of your life. To learn that when you face storms that you have to be able to fight them, and you have got to rise above. When you have two granddaughters, Emma Grace and Caroline, I want them to remember their yaw-yaw as somebody who never quit fighting. That I was able to rise above.”
As of now, McNelis intends to continue to coach, but she says that she will be mindful of listening to her body moving forward.
“People have asked if I am going to coach, yes, because I made a commitment to this university,” McNelis said. “I love this university. I played here. My goal when I came here was to give everything that I got to try and get us to the NCAA tournament, and we haven’t been able to do that. It may not be this year, but we have to be able to fight that fight. I want to continue to make this university proud. The last thing that I want to do is disappoint somebody that gave me an opportunity.
“It’s going to take a fight together with everybody and prayers. I don’t need encouragement. I think I’m a tough knuckle, I really do, but this kicks you in the teeth when it’s round two. Prayers and words of encouragement are always very welcoming.”