Like Mother, Like Daughter in Breast Cancer Recovery

Archbishop Molloy girls’ junior varsity head basketball coach Christine Harnischfeger and her mom, Nancy, both battled breast cancer simultaneously in 2021. (Photo: Courtesy Christine Harnischfeger)

We’ve heard it before, and we’ll hear it again: When it comes to breast cancer, early detection saves lives.

There may not be a better living example of this than Archbishop Molloy H.S., Briarwood, head junior varsity basketball coach Christine Harnischfeger. Thanks to early detection, Harnischfeger is on the road to a full recovery after being diagnosed with stage I breast cancer in April 2021.

Even though medical guidance suggests women should start going for mammograms at age 40, Harnischfeger began routine screenings at age 28, since her mother, Nancy Harnischfeger, had and recovered from stage II breast cancer. As a teenager, Christine also had two instances of having benign masses on her breast, so she became very much aware of the importance of conducting self-exams.

Originally from Corpus Christi parish in Woodside, Christine attended grammar school and played Catholic Youth Organization (CYO) basketball at St. Joseph’s, Astoria. She then starred as a point guard at Archbishop Molloy before continuing her hoops career at Queens College, Flushing.

After six years as an assistant girls’ varsity coach for the Stanners, she has now been the head girls’ junior varsity coach at Molloy for the past three seasons. Her father, Joe Harnischfeger, is Molloy’s head girls’ varsity coach, as well as the CYO parish athletic representative at St. Joe’s.

Nancy’s breast cancer battle began at age 40 after being diagnosed in 1991, when Christine was only 2 years old. Since it was an aggressive form of cancer in her left breast, Nancy underwent a lumpectomy, had lymph nodes removed from her left armpit, and then endured through six weeks of radiation.

Her treatments worked well, and she was deemed cancer free. For 29 years, Nancy went for yearly mammograms and never had any issues. Yet right when Christine was diagnosed this past April, Nancy’s latest screening showed that her right breast now had a cancerous mass. This would be her second bout with breast cancer, with mother and daughter battling together side-by-side.

Christine was only 31 years old when she was diagnosed. Surgeons removed her mass in June 2021, and it was then recommended she undergo chemotherapy since the cancer spread to some of her lymph nodes.

At the same time as Nancy went through her radiation treatments, Christine received chemotherapy – four sessions spaced three weeks apart for three months. While it was challenging, Christine likened chemo to the preseason of her college basketball seasons at Queens.

“In college basketball, preseason lasts for three months,” Christine said. “It’s so much conditioning, and you’re exhausted all the time. I looked at chemo the same way. Once it’s over, you know the season is coming. That was a light at the end of the tunnel for me.”

For Nancy, it was extremely challenging to see her only daughter go through such a scary experience. “Most mothers and daughters bond over a day at a spa,” Nancy said. “We were bonding in a breast surgeon’s office. I wish I could have taken everything away from Christine and dealt with it all as her mom. It was so sad to see your kid go through something like this.”

Yet, the support system that this mother-daughter duo formed wound up being exactly what each other needed to power through their treatments, mammograms, sonograms, biopsies, MRIs, and checkups with the surgeon.

“It was so important going through this together,” Christine said. “It made the doctor appointments so much easier. Having her there was always so helpful, and my dad was always our chauffeur everywhere.”

The family members were a true source of strength for both Nancy and Christine. Joe, Nancy’s husband of nearly 39 years, was with them every step of the way and never complained. “He was amazing,” Nancy said. “We couldn’t ask for a better dad or husband.”

After her first two weeks of chemo, Christine received a special surprise from her boyfriend – now fiancé – Michael LoCascio, whose proposal brought lots of joy to the family in an otherwise dark time. LoCascio is the son of St. John’s Prep, Astoria, head varsity girls’ basketball coach Mike LoCascio.

At the recent GCHSAA “Think Pink” weekend of high school basketball games, Christine spoke to the young women student-athletes and spectators about her breast cancer journey. She will now undergo hormone therapy for the next five years, and her outlook – as well as that of her mother Nancy – is very positive.

“If you feel something or see something and it doesn’t feel right, go to the doctor,” said Christine while giving advice to the next generation. “I hate going to the doctor, but you have to understand when your body isn’t right. Self-exams are so important. They could potentially save your life.”

Once again, early detection has allowed this mother-daughter bond to continue growing strong. In the case of the Harnischfegers’ battle against breast cancer, two was better than one.

“We’re both on our way to being survivors,” Nancy said. “Christine is walking proof that early detection saves lives. She really is!”

Contact Jim Mancari via email at

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