When Josie Neel was 28 years old, she was a medical assistant for Amy Quillo, M.D., and she also sometimes worked at UofL Health – Brown Cancer Center. One day, Neel felt a pea-sized lump that was hard and did not move.
Following a breast biopsy, Neel was diagnosed with breast cancer three days before Christmas. The day she was diagnosed was also the same day her mom had a heart attack. Neel’s kids were aged 2 and 4 at the time of her diagnosis.
“I was really scared,” Neel said.
In January 2013, she underwent a double mastectomy and several rounds of chemotherapy. The treatment worked and Neel showed no evidence of breast cancer.
Three years later, Neel started experiencing charley horses and cramps in her leg. Eventually, the pain got so bad that she could not walk.
Doctors initially misdiagnosed Neel. However, when she told Beth Riley, M.D., her medical oncologist, about her issues, a tumor was found in her femur.
Neel had radiation to treat her tumor, and it was a long process. She needed to relearn to walk. However, her mindset was different compared to her initial cancer diagnosis.
“The second time I was diagnosed with cancer, I was OK,” Neel said. “I knew I would be OK, and I had good doctors. I have a million percent faith in Dr. Riley.”
Neel said her experiences with cancer have made her more humble.
“It made me realize a lot of the things I thought were important really weren’t,” she said. “I just try to make as many memories with my kids as possible. That’s all that matters.”
In 2020, Neel and her family also overcame more adversity after their house burned down. Fortunately, Brown Cancer Center helped her family find temporary housing and food to help them until they got another house.
Today, Neel is doing well at age 39. She still goes for a monthly shot, takes oral chemo pills and gets scans two times a year. She is a single mom to her 13-year-old daughter and her 15-year-old son, and they live in Shepherdsville, Ky.
In September 2023, Neel threw out the first pitch for the Louisville Bats’ annual Strike Out Cancer game.
“That was amazing,” she said. “That was one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. The fact they let my kids and mom come down on the field was above and beyond. It was awesome. Cancer has definitely given me more than it’s taken.”
Neel hopes that one day, cancer will be cured and the people fighting it will be OK. She has advice for others with cancer.
“Keep your head up,” she said. “You’re not alone. It’s OK. It’s going to be OK.”
Neel said it’s important to know your body.
“Mine came out of nowhere and I was 28,” she said. “Just try to stay as healthy as you can and know yourself.”
Neel said she is very thankful for Dr. Riley and the team at Brown Cancer Center.
“That place has saved me,” Neel said. “Because of Dr. Riley, I’ve got more time with my family. I’m so thankful for Dr. Riley. I tell everyone to go to Brown Cancer Center. I trust you all and I’m very thankful.”
For the past 40 years, UofL Health – Brown Cancer Center has been a leading face of world-renowned academic research and cancer care. As a result, we help patients face cancer with new hope throughout Kentuckiana and around the globe. Call 502-562-HOPE (4673) to learn more and make an appointment.