Kris Hallenga: Founder of CoppaFeel!
Kris Hallenga was diagnosed with terminal breast cancer aged 23.
Her GP dismissed her initial concerns because she was so young, which meant that the cancer had spread to her bones by the time she was eventually diagnosed. If you saw Kris’ BBC documentary, Dying to Live, you’ll know that Kris was determined to do things her way and use her experience to reshape the cancer canon. She decided not only to fight the illness head on, but also to educate others about the dangers of late diagnosis.
If you’ve spotted a giant inflatable breast on the way to work, at a festival, or in a marathon, chances are it has something to do with Kris Hallenga’s charity, CoppaFeel!. Founded by Kris and her twin sister, Maren, in 2009, the CoppaFeel! team are on a mission to educate young people about how and why they should get to know their boobs, and therefore have a better chance of discovering breast cancer at an early stage and stand the best chance of survival. While still undergoing treatment and living with terminal cancer, Kris remains at the heart of CoppaFeel! and kindly agreed to tell her story to My Little Black Book.
My Little Black Book: Kris, your amazing charity CoppaFeel! focuses on the importance of women and men regularly checking their breast tissue for abnormalities. Why are we so bad at doing this?
Kris Hallenga: The main issue is that people don’t know how to check their breasts. US and UK sites give different messages and most people have never been shown what they should be looking for. Self-checking needs to be a part of everyone’s routine. We also face the attitude that breast cancer is a “done” disease – it’s something that people have heard of so they think it can be ignored.
MyLBB: Setting up CoppaFeel! was a brave move given that you didn’t have prior experience in the charity sector. What challenges did you face and what advice would you give to others setting up a charity?
KH: I knew nothing about how to set up a charity, which was probably for the best as I might have been put off if I’d known about the hurdles! Despite my naivety, I had an abundance of passion and no-one could give me a good enough reason not to start CoppaFeel!. A key part of the process was finding the right advisors; you need to do your research and seek help from experts where possible. If you’re thinking of setting up a charity, it’s vital to look at other charities first and consider whether you’d be better off partnering with them and putting your passion into something that already exists rather than reinventing the wheel. Harness your enthusiasm and don’t underestimate the power of a small group of people to have a vast impact.
MyLBB: CoppaFeel! has a fantastically bold marketing strategy, making use of flash mobs and other high impact publicity. How did you devise your marketing strategy and how do you develop your campaigns?
KH: I always think about how I, as a young person, would like to be targeted. We do enlist experts at times, but the majority of our marketing magic comes from within CoppaFeel!. We do annual research to identify the most effective techniques then plan each campaign to focus on core themes and messages.
MyLBB: CoppaFeel! has been astoundingly successful and receives a huge amount of support from the general public, as well as celebrities. What have been your top CoppaFeel! moments so far?
KH: The first email I received from someone saying that they went to the doctor as a result of CoppaFeel! – meaning that they were diagnosed early – was a poignant moment where I could see the direct and tangible impact of the charity. Projecting our campaign message onto the Houses of Parliament in 2014 was pretty amazing, too; it was there for 10 minutes before we were ordered to remove it! Finally, receiving an Honorary Doctorate from Nottingham Trent University for my work with CoppaFeel! was incredible, especially as I felt that the award was about my working achievements rather than about my cancer.
MyLBB: While many of us struggle to achieve a work/life balance, it must be extremely difficult to devote such a huge amount of time to CoppaFeel! whilst also focusing on your health and medical treatment. What are your tips for taking time out and achieving a balance?
KH: I’m not very good at it but I am getting better! I make sure that I put non-CoppaFeel! events in my diary and stick to those arrangements to take me away from “cancerland”. If I have hospital appointments, I avoid scheduling meetings around them and give myself some time to relax afterwards. Most importantly, I try to listen to my body.
MyLBB: What advice would you give to your 18-year-old self?
KH: Check your boobs! Also, don’t take life and boys too seriously.
MyLBB: Finally, what can we expect from CoppaFeel! and the Kris Hallenga empire in 2016?
KH: We’ll keep doing what we’re doing – but bigger and better! 2016 will be all about scaling up. On the 1st of February we are taking over the Copper Box Arena in East London’s Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park to host a celebrity Dodgeball Tournament. We have the likes of Russell Howard, our patron Greg James, and Tom Fletcher taking part. It’s going to be awesome! Make sure you get your tickets now. We’re also organising our first mass participation event in May (a silent disco dash in Kent) and expanding our network of wonderful boobettes. I’ll continue writing my newspaper column but would also like to write a book.