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Knowing Your Boobs Could Save Your Life

Kris Hallenga’s personal experience of breast cancer at 22 inspired her to set up CoppaFeel! the charity reminding us that checking our boobs could be a life saver.

Knowing Your Boobs
Kristin and Maren Hallenga

Many young people think breast cancer cannot afflict them. But Kris Hallenga knows it’s not true.

Kris’s personal story started when, at just 22, she found a lump in her breast. “I went to the doctor and was told it was nothing to worry about,” she says. “Eight months later it was diagnosed as breast cancer. By then it had spread to my spine.”

Radiotherapy, chemotherapy and mastectomy followed, but within a few weeks of diagnosis Kris and her sister Maren founded the charity CoppaFeel! to encourage young people to check their boobs regularly.

Now 29, she says: “We founded CoppaFeel! because no-one was addressing young people about this. We started with a stall at a music festival, talking about boobs. A simple message delivered in a fun way sticks.”

That simple message is: check your boobs and get to know what is normal for you. “One in eight women experiences breast cancer and most cancers are detected through self-checking,” says Kris. “There is no right or wrong way – just do it. If you find anything different go to your GP. Early detection improves outcomes.”

Know the signs and symptoms. CoppaFeel! advises:

  • Look for changes in skin texture (puckering or dimpling), nipple discharge, inversion or changes in direction, swelling in the armpit or round the collarbone, changes in size or shape and rashes or crusting around the nipple or surrounding area.
  • Feel for lumps, thickening, or constant pain in the breast or armpit.

See the instructions at http://coppafeel.org/boob-check/

CoppaFeel! offers a text reminder service that urges people to check regularly and often. Already 23,000 have signed up. The #Breastmates campaign encourages people to remind mates to check their boobs. “My personal Breastmate is Maren, who urged me to return to the doctor with my own lump,” says Kris.

The charity recruits ‘Boobettes’, people 18-35 affected by breast cancer, to give talks to young people. It also runs Festifeel a festival combining music and breast awareness, takes its inflatable ‘Boobcube’ to summer festivals, recruits Uni Boob Team leaders to campaign in universities, and encourages people to take part in events such as marathons, sometimes wearing a giant inflatable boob.

It all sounds fun (and they are looking for more volunteers) but it also saves lives. “Soon after we started I got an email from a girl who was diagnosed early because she read my personal story,” says Kris. “It’s a simple message: check your boobs.”