Forrest General Hospital Foundation Partners with USM Women’s Basketball Coach for Lung Cancer Awareness Games

HATTIESBURG, Miss. – (November 11, 2021) It’s a very busy time of year for University of Southern Mississippi Women’s Basketball coach, Joye Lee-McNelis. Her Lady Eagles started their season November 1 and have a busy few months on the hardwood ahead of them until the end of regular season play in early March.

But despite daily workouts with her team, other work responsibilities, community involvement, and having a family life outside of work, Lee-McNelis is once again supporting the fight against cancer here in the Pine Belt, especially lung cancer.

A cancer survivor herself, McNelis has been a staunch advocate to raise funds to support the Patient Navigation Program at Forrest General Hospital’s Cancer Center where she herself received treatment. That fight continues this season when her Lady Eagles take to the court at 2 p.m., Saturday, November 20, against Samford, in a matchup billed as the Lung Cancer Awareness Game.

At this game, lung cancer survivors and those celebrating life in heaven will be honored and remembered as well as those Cancer Center workers – doctors, nurses, and other behind-the-scenes people. “We want to recognize these people who work relentless hours to assure patients that everything is going to be OK and to thank them for what they do to bring smiles to the many cancer patients’ faces,” Lee-McNelis said. “But we also want to bring awareness to lung cancer.”

Lee-McNelis, who has no history of lung cancer in her family, thought she was having heart issues when she was diagnosed. “I had no idea and had never thought of lung cancer, ever. So, it’s important to bring awareness to this disease. But it’s also important to make our community aware of the need of many patients in this community. I think so many people, like me, live a fast-paced life, and don’t think about those small things patients may need.”

McNelis said the first time she was diagnosed with cancer, she didn’t think a lot about it. “My life was in a whirlwind, and I was continuing to live as if nothing happened,” she said. “The second time I got lung cancer I began to think about the people out there who are really suffering, and who really hurt.” She learned about the Patient Navigation Fund at the Cancer Center through her daughter who works there as a nurse practitioner. “She shared how patients sometimes struggle to get treatments or worry how they are going to get to their treatments,” the coach said. “Because we live in a certified retirement community, a lot of children live away and don’t have families here. It really broke my heart to think particularly of the elderly in our community who don’t have a way or don’t have the financial resources to get their treatments or medicine, wigs, or headbands that are needed.

Through the Patient Navigation Program, an oncology patient navigator provides individualized patient-centered care for cancer patients by helping them identify any barriers they may be experiencing such as insurance, cultural, language, and financial.

The patient navigator then works to eliminate issues by providing education and referrals to ancillary or community resources. The goal of this program is to help guide patients and their loved ones through a complex healthcare system in hopes it will empower them during the whole experience. Patients only need their diagnosis and treatment plan recommendation to be eligible to meet with the oncology patient navigator— no referral is necessary.

The goal of the Patient Navigation Program is to ensure patients that they are not alone in their battle with cancer.

Knowing how much the drug for her own treatment cost was mind boggling to Lee-McNelis. “That just hit me between the eyes,” she said. “It was like, ‘I can make it, but how many people can’t?’ I’ve got to do something with this community. I’ve got to be a difference maker and help in some small way. My parents always taught us that in life, you were not put on this earth to be self-serving — you’re put here on this earth to serve others. My heart goes out to the people who are in need.” For that reason, she hopes this can be a long-standing partnership. “I believe that together, with the Foundation and the Cancer Center, we can truly make a difference.”

All lung cancer survivors are welcome to attend the game free of charge. During the matchup, T-shirts will be given to the survivors and rally towels will be handed out. Members of the Lady Eagle Booster Club will be standing at the entrance that night taking donations for the FGH Cancer Center fund.

Please join Coach McNelis, the Golden Eagle Family and the Forrest General Healthcare Foundation in supporting the Patient Navigation Program. Through your donations, the program will be able to broaden access to care for patients and their families in a time when they need it most.

“We thank Coach McNelis for being a kindhearted servant who leads by example through her selfless devotion to others,” said Martha Dearman, executive director of the Forrest General Healthcare Foundation which oversees the program. “Our hearts are bigger and our community is stronger because of her service. Our words will never be able to thank her enough for what she has given back to the Pine Belt.”

To make a donation, text “GIVE” to 1-833-585-8650 or visit www.forresthealth.org/coach

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Beth Bunch

Media Coordinator

Please submit all media requests via email to beth.bunch@forrestgeneral.com or by phone at 601-288-1303.

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