CoppaFeel! founder Kris Hallenga talks breast health and boob checks

Kris and Maren Hallenga from CoppaFeel at the Bath Half 2013

Kris Hallenga (second left) with sister Maren, Greg James and Dermot O’Leary at the Bath Half 2013

If anyone knows about the importance of breast awareness, it’s Kris Hallenga from CoppaFeel! Kris and her twin sister Maren founded the breast cancer awareness charity in 2009, one month after Kris was diagnosed with stage four breast cancer at the age of just 23. It’s their mission to get every woman in this country regularly checking their breasts for the signs and symptoms of breast cancer, and through their efforts lives have already been saved.

As CoppaFeel! launches their #Brahijack campaign for boob check labels to be sewn into every bra sold in the UK, Kris talks to Fashion Bust about the charity’s mission and why we should all be copping a feel.

What’s the story behind CoppaFeel!?

CoppaFeel! was set up by me in 2009 after I was diagnosed with incurable breast cancer at the age of 23. At the time, there were no breast cancer charities encouraging young people to get into the good healthy habit of checking their boobs regularly.

If there had been before I was diagnosed, and I knew that this disease could happen to someone my age, I may have had a very different attitude to knowing my boobs and getting my very lumpy boob checked out sooner, which in turn would have meant a better diagnosis and I wouldn’t  be needing treatment to prolong my life now.

Anyway, now, because of CoppaFeel!, so many young people are aware and do check themselves. But there’s still a lot more to do….

CoppaFeel! is a breast cancer awareness charity aimed at younger women – why do you believe it is so important to target this age group?

We learn all sorts of good things when we are young, like crossing the street safely and brushing our teeth. Why? Because it’s something that could help us in years to come. Much like good breast health.

The more we know about our boobs, and our bodies in general, from a young age, the quicker we would notice changes that could be cancer. If breast cancer is found early, in most cases it’s totally treatable. To us, checking yourself from NOW, no matter your age, is absolute common sense.

Although more rare, breast cancer does affect young women, and often more aggressively too. This isn’t a disease reserved for mums and grandmas.

What was the reaction to the launch of the charity among young women?

Overwhelming. We knew very little about marketing or health promotion when we set out on this adventure, but everything was learnt by just talking to the age group we wanted to target.

It was also handy that I, and everyone helping me set it up, were at the age we were targeting. We started to have good healthy conversations about boobs, which pretty much cemented our belief that this was something that needed to be done more, and nationally.

Where did the name come from?

Bit of a funny story actually. I was living in Beijing before I was diagnosed with breast cancer and as I commuted to work on the underground every morning I would joke to my Canadian friend that the Chinese men were using the opportunity to ‘cop a feel’ of my bum, as we were all so tightly packed in.

I could say it out loud as they couldn’t understand anyway, and it made me chuckle to myself most mornings! So yup, that’s as profound as it gets!

Plus there’s the added bonus that it says exactly what it does on the tin, there’s not ambiguity with us!

Who are the Boobettes?

A group of young women, typically under 30, who’ve all had breast cancer or have had a breast cancer scare. They are our voice and share their stories with other young people at schools or work places.

It’s very powerful and has a much bigger and lasting effect on people than someone talking about the disease who hasn’t been through it themselves.

What do you do with the money you raise through fundraising?

It all goes back into our projects and awareness raising. Every penny helps remind another person to check their boobs. Roughly it costs about £2 to remind someone for an entire year, on a monthly basis. Just £2 could save someone’s life, which is not much at all really!

If you could achieve just one thing through CoppaFeel!, what would it be?

To save a life. Oh wait, we’ve already done that!

Ultimately I don’t want CoppaFeel! to be necessary or to exist. We should all be thinking about our own health, bodies and boobs more and I strongly believe this takes a big shift in our attitudes and human behaviour.

That won’t happen over night so we have a lot more to do! I want to be able to walk up to any young woman and when I ask her if she checks her boobs, I’d like the response to be ‘yeah, of course, I’d be silly not to!’. Right now it’s more of a ‘ummm no’.

What’s your message to young women out there who think breast cancer is something that happens to older women?

You’re never too young to check your boobs, you’re never too young to get breast cancer. It’s as simple as that. PS, it’s fun!

How often should we be checking our boobs?

We recommend once a month, but feel free to do it more frequently if you like! The idea is to get to know how your boobs change with your cycle, then you know what changes are right for you.

Doing it regularly is the only way you’d notice something not quite right. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s cancer, but its worth getting checked out.

What should we be looking for?

Any abnormal changes for you. There are signs and symptoms too and no doubt you’ve heard of a lump. But not all breast cancers are found by discovering a lump so really it’s a case of noticing when something has occurred that’s not normal for you.

It’s also important to check into your armpit and collarbone area as that is all breast tissue. Go to our website which has more info too!

And if we find something…?

If you find something that isn’t right for you, get it checked out. That is what your doctor is there for but remember, you know your boobs better than anyone and if you’ve been checking them regularly you are in a much better position to say ‘this isn’t right FOR ME’.

Nine out of ten lumps aren’t cancerous, so don’t think the worst. No matter what it may be, it’s worth getting it checked out and your doctor will be happy you acted so proactively too.

How can people get involved with CoppaFeel!? Do you have any events coming up?

Firstly, you can get involved by simply checking your own boobs regularly.

If you too are a young person with breast cancer and want to help spread the boob love, we’d love to hear from you!

We do have events popping up all the time. If you’re into running, or fancy a new challenge, jump on the Bath half marathon bandwagon along with 199 other happy smiley boob costume clad runners (including our patron Dermot O’Leary) in March to raise money for us. It is as fun as it sounds, honest….

Keep your eyes peeled on our website, coppafeel.org, and our Facebook page for any upcoming events to get involved with. We do stuff all over the country and the more voices, the better.

 

 

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