USM Women’s Basketball Coach Urges Support of Cancer Center Navigation Program

USM’s Head Women’s Basketball Coach, Joye Lee-McNelis, has a strong desire to use her voice to advocate for others. Her passion to give back is deep rooted in the values her parents taught her – to serve others. 

HATTIESBURG, Miss. (February 5, 2021) Whether you, your spouse, a loved one, or a friend is battling cancer – the feelings can be overwhelming. But Coach Joye Lee-McNelis’s brave words remind us all to look for the hope in each situation, no matter what we are facing. Her leadership is an examples of kindness and selflessness in action. 

“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,” she said.

McNelis, The University of Southern Mississippi Women’s basketball coach for the past 17 seasons, earned C-USA Coach of the Year accolades during the 2016-17 season. She applies the philosophy of serving others across all areas of her life — from how she coaches her team to how she handles times of personal adversity.

For those who are not familiar with her story, McNelis was first diagnosed with lung cancer in 2017. She recently shared that her cancer has unfortunately returned and is mapping out her treatment plan with her oncologist at the Forrest General Cancer Center.

It’s no surprise to anyone who knows McNelis that during her own personal crisis, she is finding ways to give back to those in the community. “Even in times when we think that our lives are a wreck and things seem to be going in a spiral…it’s about the impact you make on others’ lives — that’s how you make a difference,” McNelis said.

Her latest way to give back is by partnering with Forrest General to expand the Patient Navigation Program. The battle cry of the Patient Navigation Program is to be a guiding light for those who are combatting cancer and for their families.

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.

McNelis admitted that during her first battle with cancer, she didn’t really know what the Patient Navigation Program entailed. “I thought it was just buying wigs and scarves,” she said. Since that time, McNelis’s daughter has joined the Cancer Center team as a nurse practitioner. After hearing from her daughter the countless stories about the hurdles patients and their families face in the wake of a cancer diagnosis, McNelis knows firsthand the importance of access to care. When her cancer returned, she wanted to find a way to help more families receive the care they need. She expressed that now, more than ever, it is important to dissolve any barrier that stands between a patient and proper care.

“People have faced so many storms because of COVID-19 — from physical to financial to emotional,” McNelis said. “The timing is right to help people get the medical, emotional, mental and physical care they need so they can enjoy life. We’re never guaranteed how long we are going to live. Only our Heavenly Father knows when that day will be.”

McNelis recognizes her position with the Southern Miss Athletics Department as a great way to raise support for patients and their families. “Whatever I can do, I want to use my position as a platform to help people who are in need gain better access to treatment,” McNelis said. “I just can’t imagine how people, particularly those on fixed incomes, meet all of their personal needs.”

McNelis has a strong desire to use her voice to advocate for others. Her passion to give back is deep rooted in the values her parents taught her – to serve others.

Please join Coach McNelis, the Golden Eagle Family and the Forrest General Healthcare Foundation in supporting the expansion of 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,” 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.”

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