My Journey: From male breast cancer to metastatic breast cancer to what comes next

Chris Koniers and his wife, Franny, have been long time activists with Komen Philadelphia.

Breast Cancer is a strange world which I first entered twenty years ago. Franny and I were excited to celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. Our daughters were in college and our 9-year-old son made us feel young. We both had good jobs—and life was great.

Suddenly my world changed when I heard Franny say, “I have breast cancer.”

Franny is trooper as well as an RN with operating room experience—so I think she did more to calm my fears than I could to calm hers. I do remember her crying in the shower as her hair was falling out from the Chemotherapy. Being a cool caregiver I shaved my head in support.

In time, hers grew back. Mine? Not so much!

The chemo treatments were difficult and were followed by weeks of radiation. After taking Franny to her last radiation treatment I went to work—and was laid off. I remember thinking, “Well at least the cancer is done with!”

Time passed—Franny returned to nursing and I switched careers. We attended our first Komen Philadelphia Race for the Cure to support all of the sisters touched by breast cancer.

“Cancer was 11 years in my rearview mirror—and it was the last thing on my mind when I felt a little tickle in my right nipple”

Fast forward to 2008. Cancer was 11 years in my rearview mirror—and it was the last thing on my mind when I felt a little tickle in my right nipple. It was no different than any little tickle—and I didn’t give it a thought.

Later—at a routine visit to my Doctor—he discussed my triglycerides, the need for exercise… and that I should lose some weight. The appointment was over, and as he was walking out of the exam room I heard myself say, “Oh Doctor. I have a little tickle.”  I had no plan to mention this. I had not even thought about it. It was as if someone else said it. This lead to tests and a biopsy and then to my hearing… “Chris, you have breast cancer.”

“I soon realized that I was a Stranger in this Strange World

In an instant, Franny and my roles were changed. She was now the caregiver and I was the patient. I soon realized that I was a Stranger in this Strange World. My research turned up little information about male breast cancer, I found that medication trials for breast cancer did not include men because it was too rare. I knew no one who had ever had male breast cancer. People asked if I caught it from Franny. I found myself in a sea of pink surrounded by women.

One remarkable moment came on Mother’s Day. I was in the hospital recovering from my mastectomy as I watched on TV the survivors descend the steps of the Art Museum at the start of the 2008 Komen Philadelphia Race for the Cure. I realized then that I too had become a survivor.

Treatment progressed, and I found chemotherapy to be a real challenge. I also soon found that while a man with breast cancer was rare, a married couple of survivors was newsworthy. We were interviewed by The Philadelphia Inquirer, I was spotlighted on CBS 3 and did public service spots.

“For many years, Franny and I  were proud to wear our pink “Survivors!” shirts”

But, we were both glad that the cancer chapter of our lives was now over. The next year—and for years after—we were proud to wear our pink “Survivors!” shirts and join other survivors at the Annual Race for the Cure. Komen Philadelphia started to do more to raise awareness of male breast cancer, too.

On Halloween of 2013, Franny had her annual mammogram. After 16 years, things now seemed almost routine. Routine until the doctor confirmed Franny’s reoccurrence of breast cancer.

We once again had to endure many procedures, tests, treatments and traumas. It put a sharp edge to our battle that was not there before. Franny required a bilateral mastectomy and several other procedures, whose names I can neither spell nor pronounce. The surgery lasted five hours, followed by an emergency post-operative port reposition.

We enjoyed the 2015 St. Patrick’s Day parade, watching our Granddaughters as they Irish danced down the Ben Frankling Parkway. I, however, was not watching the curb. I tripped on, it necessitating my trip to the Urgent Care and resulting in a broken rib.   We were soon leaving on a cruise to celebrate Franny’s recent negative scan—and our 65th Birthdays. However, a follow-up to the broken rib lead to a CatScan which confirmed my own reoccurrence of breast cancer. This was two days before my birthday and our celebration cruise.

I felt like we were two mercenaries on R&R between wars.

My treatment ended, and life once again returned to normal. Franny retired and followed her dreams of spoiling our grandchildren, writing and sewing. Our journey to Cancer World now seemed like a hobbit tale from long ago.

That was until last July when I heard my Doctor say “Chris you have Metastatic Breast cancer. It is incurable, but treatable” This most recent discovery has turned me into a Forever Fighter. And as I face this fight, my battle cry is from Psalm 118: 

“This is the day the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad.”  

Truly, this is the only day we have… for tomorrow is promised to no one!

— Chris Koniers
Forever Fighter!

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