23 years old, travelling, falling in love, making plans, living your best life. Then you find a lump on your boob and you’re told it’s not only cancer, but it is in fact incurable. This is what happened to Kris Hallenga in 2009.
It has been 12 years since Kris was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer and she has now released a book. ‘Glittering a Turd’ is more than just your average cancer memoir. It is a handbook on how to live life to the fullest, sharing a new perspective on survival and learning how to glitter your own turd, whatever that might be.
Kris was only 22 years old when she first felt a lump on her boob. But she had no idea how long it had been there and whether she might have always had it, as she had no idea girls and women should be checking their boobs regularly. So she just never did. She only started getting concerned and decided to tell her mum after it got so painful that she was unable to sleep on her front at night. Her mum understandably sent her to the GP immediately. Unfortunately, they sent her away saying it was hormonal, a symptom of the pill and that she was young so there would be nothing to worry about. In 2009 there was very little information about the fact that young people can get breast cancer, so Kris thought nothing much about the doctor’s response and carried on living her carefree life.
Months passed and the symptoms were getting worse and worse so she returned to the doctors for the third time asking if she could be referred to a breast cancer clinic. If Kris was over 30, she would have been seen within two weeks, but as she was not, she just kept ringing to see if there had been a cancellation. When she was finally seen, her first consultant didn’t believe it was anything serious and told her to come off the pill and return in three weeks. When she finally had a mammogram, Kris was told the news. She had stage four breast cancer at the age of 24. Not only that, but in the meantime of waiting for appointments she had developed back pain. A week later, she was told she also had secondary cancer in her spine. Kris’s cancer was now terminal, it could not be cured.
In 2009, while she was having radiotherapy on her spine in the hope she could walk with a little less pain and was also about to start chemotherapy to shrink the tumour on her breast, Kris created the charity Coppafeel!. She told The Guardian earlier this year how she was so confused and baffled at this point in time.
“Why didn’t anyone tell me to check my boobs? Why didn’t I know I could get breast cancer at 23? I’m pretty sure my friends don’t know either so literally no young person in this country knows this huge secret. This needs to change”. A wave of energy came over Kris and Coppafeel! was born.
The mission of Coppafeel! is to ensure all types of breast cancer are diagnosed early and correctly. The charity encourages you to check your boobs and pecs regularly no matter your age, educates you on the signs and symptoms of breast cancer and gives you the empowerment to seek advice from a doctor if symptoms persist.
Since starting the charity in a festival field with her friends, using face paint to attract the attention of people to start a conversation about breasts and whether they ever checked them, Coppafeel! has come a long way. Over the years, they have thrown themselves into campaigning to spread awareness, from flashmobs and stunts such as projecting cancer statistics onto Houses of Parliament through to teacher training and policy advocacy.
Kris’s cancer has unfortunately continued to grow. In 2011, a scan discovered more tumours in her pelvis and hips. Since then, routine scans have been repeatedly picking up more symptomless tumours. Most recently, she has just undergone surgery to remove the tumours found on her adrenal glands. Until this however, Kris had enjoyed the longest period of stability since her diagnosis in 2009.
In 2017, she stepped aside as the CEO of Coppafeel! to move down south to Cornwall to spend more time with her sister and write her new book. She told The Guardian how she believes “it’s important for charity founders to not get cocky and think: ‘I’m gonna run this thing for ever’. Move over and let someone else have a chance. They might have even better ideas.”
Coppafeel! continues in their vision that everyone should have the best possible chance of surviving breast cancer by educating young people about their own bodies so they can notice if something isn’t quite right. They have so many fab resources so we can all get to know our bodies regularly and a little bit better. Check out the Self-Checkout here. You can also sign up for monthly texts to remind you check yourself out here.
And as for Kris, she has survived far longer than anyone expected in 2009. She has had treatments that didn’t even exist back then. Nobody can explain why she keeps surviving but I think it is her shining light and positive energy that has changed so many young people’s lives. Read more about Kris’s story in her new book ‘Glittering a Turd’.