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Kris turned her breast cancer diagnosis into a drive for awareness

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At the age of 23 in 2009, Kris Hallenga received the overwhelming news that she had metastatic breast cancer. She had discovered a lump months before but hadn’t known about checking herself for changes. Her GP was dismissive of her symptoms and she was diagnosed too late.

However, Kris noticed that the general lack of awareness that breast cancer can happen to younger people too, meaning many individuals were not checking themselves for signs and symptoms as they should. “Early detection saves lives. Before I was diagnosed, no one else was tackling this issue, so I had to.”

She set up CoppaFeel!, the first charity of its kind, a month after she was diagnosed. This was not without challenges, as Kris explains. “I think that was a good thing, as naivety got me through some of the hardest and challenging times.”

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She had never had experience running a charity, or with branding and PR, but worked with people who knew how to help. “Fundraising is also of course very hard, especially as I don’t really like talking about money.” she adds.

CoppaFeel! has run some huge campaigns, such as the Boobettes, who are a group of people who use their own experience of breast cancer or have a strong story to tell who educate about the importance of checking yourself and making it a lifelong habit.

The charity also collaborated with celebrities such as Fearne Cotton, Tom Fletcher, Greg James and Dermot O’Leary on a campaign called #GetItOffYourChest, which aims to get people talking about their boobs and the lesser-known symptoms of breast cancer.

 

On encouraging young people to be aware of breast cancer, Kris thinks that talking about the symptoms is a good conversation to be having. “I think young women are more likely to talk about this stuff now, and we just want to help facilitate that, bust some myths and encourage a life long habit of boob checking.

“It’s not OK to just do it once, as you’d never know if something isn’t normal for you. It needn’t be a chore, it needn’t be scary and it could even be fun! Especially if you get your partner involved…”

Since her diagnosis, Kris has found strength and support from her twin sister Maren, who worked tirelessly with Kris to build the charity to success. “She would make me laugh, tell me to get out of bed when I didn’t feel like it, make me food when I simply couldn’t be bothered or had little appetite.

“My family and friends have of course been pretty epic throughout all this. Then in a weird way CoppaFeel! became my support too, because it gave me focus and I could plough energy frustration and creativity into it.” says Kris.

What she found surprising about experiencing cancer is the role you must play to get yourself better. “I am glad I found this out pretty early on, so I am comfortable knowing that I have to be my own cancer PA and speak up when I am not happy, and chase appointments.”

She adds: “I am an expert in my own health and that has given me a lot more control (I like control…). I like looking after my body and listening to it when it needs to be listened to.”

“Knowing your boobs could save your life! And if you need reminding check out coppafeel.org

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