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Kris Hallenga

Public Health Advocate

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Kris Hallenga, founder of breast cancer awareness charity CoppaFeel!, talks about how she was diagnosed and how her charity came about.

Kris's Biography

Kristin Hallenga and her twin sister Maren were born November 11, 1985. They, together with their elder sister Maike, are the daughters of a teacher father from Germany and an English secretary mother. They spent the first half of their childhood in Germany, but moved to Daventry, Northampton, after their parents divorced in the mid-1990s. Throughout school, Kristin and Maren remained close as they sat in the same classes, studied the same GCSEs and A-levels, at which they even achieved the same grades (three As each). At 18, they spent a gap year traveling around Australia. Only on their return did their lives begin to diverge — Maren enrolled at the University of Falmouth to study garden design while Kristin embarked on a travel and tourism course in Northampton.

 

As students, they lived 300 miles apart but they still spoke every day and spent holidays together. In 2009, at the tender age of 23, Kris was diagnosed with breast cancer and their lives began to drastically change. Her doctor put it down to a hormonal reaction to the mini-pill and instructed her to take evening primrose oil tablets to ease the pain. Trying to put things to the back of her mind, she jetted off to Beijing a week later to carry out a six-month work internship for a travel company. But the pain in her breast worsened and she decided to cut short her trip and head home to the U.K. so she could see a doctor. This doctor told her to try a different contraceptive pill. Not satisfied with this, her mother insisted she went back to her original GP and ask for a referral. Finally, Kris discovered that not only she had breast cancer, but that it had spread to her spine. Kris was at stage four, the most advanced stage. Since then, the cancer has spread to her liver and her bones, and she's had a lesion on her brain. However, despite all of this, she has survived her original prognosis by living with terminal cancer for more than five years.

 

Two months after her original diagnosis, Kris and her sister Maren founded CoppaFeel!, the first breast cancer charity in the UK to educate young people on the importance of getting to know their boobs. The charity has grown to employ eight full-time staff and a team of volunteer ambassadors, known as 'Boobettes,' who tour the country — often wearing large boob costumes — visiting universities, schools and music festivals to encourage women to get into the habit of checking their breasts regularly. Through its innovative campaigns such as 'Check 'em Tuesday' with The Sun's Page 3 or 'bra hijack' that calls on lingerie companies to sew reminder labels into garments, the charity has picked up numerous awards. Despite her unflagging work ethic, Kris said doesn't like being called brave. She says, "My beef is people associating having cancer with being inspirational and brave, and I don't think those two things should be linked. It's just the way you have to live and survive it. I don't mind being called inspirational if I have inspired someone to do something good. Brave I hate, as I have no choice but to do what I can to survive. I think I was brave to make a documentary, as that was not easy, but it was quite important for me to do that."

 

Kris received public attention after being profiled in "Kris: Dying to Live," a documentary that covered her experience living with terminal breast cancer.