After being diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer at the age of 23, Kris Hallenga sprang into action. Only two months later, she’d set up CoppaFeel, a charity with a simple - but brilliant - message: get familiar with those mammory glands of yours and give them a good feel.
After being announced as DFS’ Woman of the Year award, we revisit our interview with the ever-inspirational Kris Hallenga from CoppaFeel where we spoke about her fight with cancer, her top tips for checking your boobs and her #BreastMate…
I was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 23. I’m now 29, almost 30. I found the lump when I was 22 and I didn’t know how long it’d been there. I hadn’t been checking myself, so I ignored various symptoms for a while. I told my mum and my sister and they told me to go to speak to my GP about it. They said it was probably just a normal change and it was nothing to worry about. It took 8 months from the first time I went to my GP to being told that it was, infact, breast cancer. By that time it was stage 4 and had spread to my spine.
I had radiotherapy on my spine – I couldn’t stand up straight, it was so painful. I then had to have chemotherapy to shrink the tumours in my breasts then I had a mastectomy. That was all in the same year I was diagnosed. After that it all sort of calmed down for a bit. Later [the cancer spread] to my liver and other bits of bones like my pelvis and hips. A year after that it went to my brain, but that was treated successfully and that has now gone. It’s been kind of stable since then but I still have treatment every month.
[CoppaFeel] was my idea. It was clear to me that no one was addressing young people and I couldn’t make out why, so I thought, if no one else is doing it we might as well. The first thing we did was to go to Beach Bode Live festival, we set up a stand and just talked about boobs – it was great because people actually listened to us. It’s a very simple message and if you deliver it in a fun way it can actually stick.
My top tip [for checking your boobs] would be to not worry about doing it right – the fact that you’re doing it is great. It’s about knowing what’s right for you and the only way you’re going to know that is by checking regularly. There is no right or wrong way.
We’ve got 23,000 people signed up to our text messages (which remind you to check your boobs). It’s another way to wedge our way into women and men’s lives. It’s also a great way for us to measure the impact we have. It’s great to see that we don’t have a high drop out rate, so people are really benefitting from our message.
The Sun approached us [about doing the Check ‘Em Tuesdays column] which always surprises people. They obviously wanted to use Page 3 for something good. It took a lot of time for us to think about it and speak to our Boobettes (CoppaFeel’s uni boob team) because they would obviously have to represent us. I don’t read The Sun, I don’t read any newspapers really. It’s not about whether I read it, it’s about the fact that 6 million people do. If anything we’re speaking to an audience that we couldn’t speak to ourselves any other way. We’ve even had men who are big truckers message us to say that they went home and checked their wives boobs and from that she had an early diagnosis.
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I’m working with Lorraine Kelly on our #BreastMate campaign. It basically encourages people to remind their mates to check their boobs and to have that healthy conversation. My #BreastMate is my twin sister, Maren, I can’t really deny it, she’s my best friend and she encouraged me to keep going to the doctor.
[The most powerful CoppaFeel moment so far was] when I got my first email from a girl who said that she’d been diagnosed early because of our work. She wouldn’t have gone back to her GP if she hadn’t heard my story. It was a Hallelujah moment for me. She’s now one of our Boobettes and a mate. She sticks out because she was the first and it made all of the hard work worth it.
I’m not a great advice giver. I’m not a breast cancer oracle. It’s different for everyone. I get really annoyed when people speak on behalf of everyone who has got breast cancer and say, ‘It’s really shit, chemo is really hard, blah blah blah’ because it’s not that way for everyone. It is what it is and it is going to suck for a bit but hopefully you’ll get through it and feel better than ever.
I just want to stay here as long as possible. That would be my biggest achievement –to be able to stay here and continue to spread the word.