Home Lifestyle I want to be remembered for doing epic stuff, not having cancer...

I want to be remembered for doing epic stuff, not having cancer at 23

1
0


Kris Hallenga showed us that it’s possible to live life to the fullest with cancer (Picture: Jenna Foxton)

‘If people think of me after I die, I don’t want it to be just drenched in sadness. I don’t want people to say “it’s a shame she died at that age.” I want people to say “she did epic stuff – epic s**t!” I want people to remember that I was genuinely content.’

Kris Hallenga said these words in August 2021, a little less than three years before her death from incurable breast cancer at age 38, in May 2024.

I interviewed her a week before the publication of her dazzling memoir, Glittering a Turd, which charts her life before and after her devastating diagnosis at age 23, from growing up in Germany to founding the breast cancer awareness charity CoppaFeel!

Now, just days after her death, the drenching in sadness is unavoidable.

When I heard the news, I felt numb with grief and I can’t stop thinking about Kris and her twin sister, Maren. There’s been an outpouring of love on social media and her death has hit hard not just among her friends and family but also with people who never met her.

But Kris wanted to be remembered for doing epic s**t, and that’s exactly what she did. She far outlived the average prognosis of two to three years and, with every year she gained, she seemed to become mentally stronger and more determined.

A terminal diagnosis often comes with clarity and urgency – I know this only too well, having been diagnosed with incurable breast cancer myself in 2022, after a decade ‘cancer-free’.

Laura and Kris during a CoppaFeel! fundraising trek in Iceland (PIcture: Laura Price)

For some people, this urgency comes with a drive to change things; to make a difference. But few people achieve quite so much as Kris.

In her short lifetime, she founded CoppaFeel!, curated and organised an annual music festival, talked in front of thousands, won a Pride of Britain award, successfully campaigned to get cancer on the school curriculum, held her own ‘living funeral’ and – perhaps, most important of all – saved countless lives. Yet, in a chapter of her memoir entitled ‘Worthiness,’ she pondered whether her success was down to her cancer.

‘Standing on a stage speaking to hundreds of people, I feel strong. I feel powerful. I feel liked. I feel like I’m allowed to be me. But is that because I’ve been given a pass because of cancer?’

I knew Kris for more than a decade and I can confidently say the answer is no.

It was not because of cancer that Kris could command a room and inspire thousands of people. It was not because of cancer that her public speaking double act with Maren was one of the most captivating things I have ever seen.

Kris (L) with her twin sister Maren, who founded CoppaFeel! together (Picture: Shutterstock)

It was not because of cancer that she could write words so powerful that I wept and snorted with laughter in equal measure.

If she hadn’t had cancer and become a charity CEO, Kris would have been the CEO of something else – she was immensely talented, smart and driven, with wisdom that stretched far beyond the topic of cancer.

If I sound gushy, it’s because, like many women in the UK and beyond, I was hugely influenced by Kris.

I first met her and Maren after I was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 29 in 2012.

Like Kris, I had been dismissed by several doctors who said the lump in my breast was ‘probably hormonal’ and that I was ‘too young’ for cancer. Like Kris, I had been through a prolonged period of stress.

Like Kris’s, my maternal grandmother had also had breast cancer young, so my mother – like hers – was worried.

Laura, Kris and fellow Boobettes, including Laura Weatherall-Plane (bottom right), with Vicky Pattison and Chloe Madeley (Picture: Laura Price)

CoppaFeel! was looking for volunteers to be ‘Boobettes’ – an army of young women who’d been affected with breast cancer and spoke at schools and festivals to educate others.

I was relieved to find a way to help but, if I’m honest, I was equally relieved to meet women my age who understood what I was going through – the fear that chemotherapy would leave me infertile; that I might never be able to have kids; that I might die young.

There are now over 150 volunteers across the UK, but back then there were just a handful of us – now affectionately referred to as ‘the OGs’ – and I did my first talk at a school in south London with Maren.

I found both kinship and community in a bunch of women who understood what it was to have hot flushes and other perimenopausal symptoms at just 30 years old.

Kris, too, became close to women who were going through similar things to her, including Laura Weatherall-Plane, who raised £100,000 for the charity before she died in 2017.

Kris found a way inform a younger generation about breast cancer (Picture: Getty Images)

The nature of a terminal illness means that many of Kris’s friends died before she did – in her memoir, she wrote: ‘Those bitches all left me before a global pandemic.’

Her sense of humour and approachability were perhaps the things that most endeared Kris to so many young people and ultimately made them listen to her chest-checking message.

When breast cancer was all pink ribbons and older ladies in headscarves, Kris jiggled her booty in a Little Mix video, posed in photo shoots with her cat, Lady Marmalade, and provided online updates on her post-surgery constipation.

In Glittering a Turd, she turned the heaviest of subjects into the most accessible of reads, peppering the lows of cancer with laugh-out-loud anecdotes, like the time her sister told her to get a spray tan because she looked ‘practically dead’.

Kris wrote perhaps survival means more than not dying (Picture: supplied)

That wicked sense of humour was also behind the title of her book, which stems from her Instagram handle and earlier blog, How to Glitter a Turd. ‘It essentially means looking at a situation that can’t necessarily be changed and shining a brighter, more positive light on it,’ Kris explained.

Kris was diagnosed at stage four, meaning her cancer could be treated with drugs and other therapies but could never be cured. The knowledge that she would never again know a life without cancer led her to start a charity to prevent others from being in her position.

She realised her efforts were worthwhile in early 2010 when she received an email from Jenny Steele, a then 26-year-old who had just been diagnosed with breast cancer, having read about Kris in an article.

Kris with Jenny on her wedding day, seven years after they first got in touch (Picture: supplied)

Jenny, now 40 and a mother of two, credits CoppaFeel! for saving her life and is a long-time supporter of the charity.

‘It wasn’t until Jenny’s email that I really was like “woah, so we really are making a difference”,’ said Kris. ‘It was a very defining moment.’

That moment strengthened Kris’s mission, helping her to build a charity that in 2023 sent out 1.4million text messages reminding people to check their chests, and is backed by celebrities from Giovanna Fletcher to Little Mix star Perrie Edwards, whose audience tallies with CoppaFeel!’s target 18-24 market.

However, her mission hasn’t just saved other people’s lives; it also saved her own, by giving her a purpose.

(L-R) Maren, Kris, their mum and Maike at Kris’s graduation in 2015 (Picture: supplied)

‘It has played as high as a 50% role in my survival,’ Kris said in 2021. ‘The body-mind connection is so incredibly strong. That real need to exist was something I didn’t have before, then having it and engaging in this purpose really helped me focus, and make my body listen. I do believe that if you feel well, then your body kind of reacts to that.’

Another part of her survival was advocating for her own treatment – Kris was outspoken about researching the options that worked best for her as an individual, and she urged others to know their bodies and speak up in medical settings.

Several years into her life with cancer, she turned down a fresh round of chemo that would have worsened her quality of life and moved from London to Cornwall to be closer to her sister and mother, and find an oncologist who would better represent her needs.

The same year, Kris tattooed over her mastectomy scar with a tightrope walker named Tina (Maren’s nickname for her sister) and in 2020, she had an elective mastectomy on her healthy breast, leaving her happily flat-chested.

The tattoo of Tina the tightrope walker, who walks across Kris’s mastectomy scar (Picture: supplied)

When CoppaFeel! began, Kris and Maren had equal billing as co-founders, both involved in everything from organising challenges to lobbying the government. As the charity grew and responsibility transferred to the team, Maren increasingly became known as ‘Kris’s sister’.

However, it is impossible to overestimate the importance of her role in her twin’s life. Quite simply, Maren was the Michelle to Kris’s Obama. She was a pillar of strength and a provider of calm. ‘When the going gets tough, she puts the kettle on,’ Kris wrote in her book.

‘A lot of times, Maren is kind of in the shadows, but I literally wouldn’t have a shadow if it wasn’t for Maren,’ Kris said. ‘Everything I do is powered in some way by her.’

Their bond was only strengthened by the birth of Maren’s son Herbie in 2019.

Kris was present at his birth and wrote: ‘When I held Herbie and breathed in all his magnificence (while Maren was having her bits sewn back up), he confirmed something very reassuring that I sort of already knew: that life goes on.’

Kris in 2009, having gone through her first two cycles of chemotherapy (Picture: supplied)

It’s a theme that was also key in the curation of CoppaFeel!

In the early days, Kris was advised to future-proof the charity so that it could survive long beyond her death, which she and her colleagues referred to as ‘going to the Maldives’.

In the end, she stepped down from her CEO duties voluntarily in 2017, remaining on board for certain tasks, like organising the annual FestiFeel gig with her friend Fearne Cotton.

But going to the Maldives was never far from Kris’s mind and she didn’t shy away from talking about it. In fact, she pointed out in her book that ‘talking about death doesn’t bring it on faster’.

It was partly this keenness to smash the taboo that led her to organise her own ‘living funeral,’ or pre-funeral, just 11 months before her death.

Invitations to her ‘FUNeral’ were sent in miniature coffins with the dress code YODO (You Only Die Once), and a note that read: “I cannot contemplate the thought of organising a funeral that I will not be at!”

Kris and Laura pose together at Kris’s FUNeral (Picture: Laura Price)
Kris said the day of her living funeral was the best day of her life (Picture: supplied)

On a hot day in June 2023, 160 of Kris’s closest friends, family and supporters turned up to the breathtaking Truro Cathedral in fancy dress and cheerful clothing.

There were gasps as Dawn French appeared at the pulpit in the character of the Vicar of Dibley, performing a skit where she pretended to have turned up to the wrong funeral. (One of Kris’s many talents was the ability to persuade the most high-profile celebrities to do things for her charity – in an Instagram dedication after Kris’s death, Fearne Cotton wrote: ‘She rarely took no for an answer, in the best way possible’.)

Kris made a speech in a silver, sequinned catsuit and a bald head decorated with glitter, while her dear friend Kay delivered a heart-shattering eulogy, and Maren spoke of her incredible bond with her twin. Light relief came in the form of an Abba singalong and a comedy rapper named Abandoman.

Dawn French transformed back into Vicar of Dibley for Kris (Credits: instagram @dawnrfrench)
Kris and her oncologist Duncan Wheatley (Picture: supplied)

Kris invited everyone to sign her biodegradable casket – the one she will be cremated in – and the night ended with her dancing with her beloved oncologist, Duncan Wheatley, in a skull-patterned shirt and a suit decorated with love hearts. She said it was the best day of her life.

While the FUNeral provided happy memories for Kris to relive as her health deteriorated, it also sparked conversations around death and dying.

Recently, close friend Giovanna Fletcher, a patron of CoppaFeel!, wrote:

‘”I have loved my life” are words that Kris said at her FUNeral last year. They have looped in my head ever since. Life is busy, but we can make sure we stop and make time for the things that matter – connecting with people, laughing, dancing, getting creative, being silly, spreading that joy. But also sitting and taking it all in. To give yourself the time to ponder is a gift.’

In the breast cancer community, Kris was a beacon of hope. When my own cancer spread, Kris gave me the hope that I, too, could survive for 15 years. Losing her doesn’t mean I’ve lost that hope – if anything, I’m more determined to live on my own terms and to make sure that if my life is short, it is well-lived.

For Kris, survival was about far more than just ‘not dying’. It was about living – really living. This was as much about campaigning for people to check their chests as it was spending time at home with her beloved cat, Lady Marmalade, and watching Neighbours with Maren. (They loved the Australian soap so much they even held a Neighbours-themed 30th birthday party, featuring a cameo from Karl Kennedy.)

In her memoir, Kris wrote: ‘Perhaps survival means more than not dying.’

Through 15 years of epic s**t, she proved that to be the case.

Kris is survived by her mother, Jane, and her sisters Maren and Maike. To find out how to check your chest or to donate to CoppaFeel!, click here.



How to check for signs of breast cancer

CoppaFeel! offers these simple steps on how to check your own chest for signs of cancer.

Look

  • Look at your boobs, pecs or chest.
  • Look at the area from your armpit, across and beneath your boobs, pecs or chest, and up to your collarbone.

Be aware of any changes in size, outline or shape and changes in skin such as puckering or dimpling. 

Feel

  • Feel each of your boobs, pecs or chest.
  • Feel the area from your armpit, across and beneath your boobs, pecs or chest, and up to your collarbone.

Be aware of any changes in skin such as puckering or dimpling, or any lumps, bumps or skin thickening which are different from the opposite side.  

Notice your nipples

  • Look at each of your nipples.

Be aware of any nipple discharge that’s not milky, any bleeding from the nipple, any rash or crusting on or around your nipple area that doesn’t heal easily and any change in the position of your nipple


MORE : CoppaFeel! breast cancer charity founder Kris Hallenga dies after 15-year illness


MORE : How to check for breast cancer and the symptoms you might not know about


MORE : Did you know about the breast cancer vaccine? Until I got it, neither did I





Source link

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here