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Living life to the full: author and charity founder Kris Hallenga on her new book

Author and charity founder Kris Hallenga has attracted the attention of many famous faces during her 12-year battle with incurable breast cancer. With an unmatched drive to survive, her new book shows the world what it is to live life to the full.

At the tender age of 22, Kris Hallenga was living a normal life, travelling the world and making plans for her future, but when she found a lump in her breast and was told that it was not only cancer but also incurable, life took on a whole new meaning; one with purpose and passion. The remarkable resilience and extraordinary strength that she mustered in a moment of great uncertainty has gone on to inspire a generation to be their own best advocates and “health bosses”.

Kris founded breast cancer awareness charity, Coppafeel!, while undergoing radiotherapy and embarking on chemo in 2009. She was struck by the sheer lack of information available to young people about educating themselves about their bodies. The charity has three missions: to get all young people to check their boobs and pecs regularly, to familiarise them with the symptoms of breast cancer, and to empower them when they’re seeking medical help.

As of this year, Coppafeel! is the third most recognised cancer charity in the UK. Now, at the age of 35, Kris has survived far longer than anyone could have expected in 2009. She credits her longevity to her powerful thirst for life. This year, Kris published her memoir, Glittering a Turd, which covers her journey through surviving the unsurvivable. After her appearance at the Penny Brohn UK Hub on Queens Road this summer, we caught up with Kris to talk about her latest campaign, her famous fans, her unshakeable hope and the “pure bliss” of Bristol’s Penny Brohn hub.

TBM: Tell us about the new book in your own words; was it a cathartic experience to write it? Difficult? Or a mix?

KH: In Glittering a Turd, I look back at everything I’ve learned and what survival really means to me. It was really hard to write and in fact I put it off for about six years. I never truly knew if I could dissect and write about my life in any kind of decent way. So, when I eventually did, I surprised myself a lot. It was super hard, very cathartic but ultimately a wonderful experience and one I am glad I stuck with and committed to.

Who should read this, and why?

I would say (and I hope the people who have already read it would agree) that my book is for absolutely everyone. It’s certainly not just for people with breast cancer. Turds happen to us all, and they are not always cancer-shaped, so I think there are lessons that span all possible variants of life. I hope they can be of use to anyone who reads it. Of course my main aim is to educate people about the importance of being your own health boss but, more than that, I want it to be a source of light and encouragement for anyone glittering their own turds.

It seems to have acquired some famous fans! Whose words have you been most touched by?

Anyone and everyone who reads my book is my best friend, truly. I am lucky to have met some incredible people since my diagnosis, who have helped spread my story way further than I ever thought possible. I feel very lucky to have Annie Mac, Fearne Cotton and Dawn O’Porter’s names and words on my book.

How was the signing and what did you think of Bristol’s Penny Brohn hub on Queens Road?

I love Bristol so jumped at the chance to come to an event. Penny Brohn has been a huge help for me over the years and their residential centre is a place of pure bliss and tranquillity. The hub is a great place for cancer patients to find out more about what Penny Brohn can offer AND it’s a shop selling all kinds of wonderful things – I LOVE a good charity shop. Penny Brohn exists to support people with cancer with super holistic and nourishing treatments and workshops. You can now go get free treatments, like massages, in their hub and I am pretty sad not to live in Bristol and be able to take advantage of that.

Tell us about how you founded CoppaFeel! and what’s coming up?

I started CoppaFeel! in 2009 out of a need to fill a huge knowledge gap for young people. No one was ensuring that young people were getting to know their boobs/chests or empowering them to speak up if they ever discovered something not normal for them. It’s because of this lack of education that I didn’t know I should check myself, or feel like I could speak to someone – or even that breast cancer could affect young people. Truth is, breast cancer can affect anybody and now the charity ensures this is a message that reaches everyone. We are always developing new and innovative ways of instilling our message and most recently we created the #KnowYourself campaign. We are working hard to ensure we start closing the gap in health education inequalities and reaching groups previously overlooked by any kinds of cancer awareness.

Of course, the very sad news about Sarah Harding is fresh in people’s minds; what would you take this opportunity to say to those worrying about the risks?

It’s important for anyone who is worried about any kinds of signs and symptoms to speak to a GP. It’s vital that we learn from Sarah’s experience and speak up when something is wrong and to be our own best advocates. I also want to ensure people understand that breast cancer is a very treatable illness when it’s found at an early stage, and that life can be lived long and happily and healthily long after a diagnosis.

What advice do you have for those newly diagnosed? How might they channel their emotions?

My simplest advice is to not give advice. This disease impacts everyone differently and all I can say is how they are feeling is absolutely how they should be feeling, and what they are doing is absolutely what they should be doing.
In your view, what is the best thing that families and friends of those diagnosed can do to support?
Take care of the chores, make them laugh, spend time doing normal things because believe it or not, they are still the same people just with some very rogue cancer cells. “Being there” can never be underestimated. Don’t feel a need to fix every negative emotion or feeling, just listen. It’s enough!

What has been your experience of complementary therapies and products?

I have been very careful about what I take, and where I get it. My most recent discovery is a CBD oil by EthicaCBD that helps me with any mild anxieties that life and cancer throws up and also helps me sleep better. Not only that, but they have a super nice night cream that ensures my tired out skin (from cancer meds and clinically induced menopause) stays moisturised and glowing. Ultimately it’s important that everyone does their own research and finds their own route to wellness.

What’s been the highlight of your career/journey post-diagnosis so far?

Seeing the impact of my work and CoppaFeel!’s work on people’s lives and cancer outcomes. When someone gets in touch to say they were diagnosed early because they got to know their boobs and got help when they needed it because of something they read or saw from CoppaFeel!, well, that’s a pretty epic feeling.

It’s hard to believe you have any spare time, but what do you do when you get it?! We hear you’re a baker?

I bake for my little coffee and cake truck, Kern, with my twin Maren. Throughout summer we have parked our vintage Citroen H van in Newquay harbour serving coffees, ice creams and home baked treats. It’s a far cry from my cancer life so I love it! I also love to dip my body in the cold water and make the most of living in Cornwall.

What would you say, now, to the Kris from 2009?

That life will be more than OK. That you will find happiness like you’ve never felt before.

Glittering a Turd: How Surviving the Unsurvivable Taught Me to Live published by Unbound (£12.99). Penny Brohn UK Hub; shop.pennybrohn.org.uk.

Featured image: Kris Hallenga, founder of Coppafeel is also an ambassador for EthicaCBD, a Cornwall based CBD well-being company

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