Kris Hallenga, who urged young people to raise awareness of breast cancer, dies at 38

When Kris Hallenga was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer – the most advanced form – at 23, questions swirled in her head: “Why didn't anyone tell me to check my breasts? Why didn't I know I could get breast cancer at 23?

If she hadn't known she might have breast cancer so young, there was a very good chance others would be equally misinformed, she said in a 2021 interview with The Guardian. She spent the next 15 years educating young people about early detection through her nonprofit, CoppaFeel, and in a 2021 memoir, “Glittering a Turd.”

On Monday, CoppaFeel announced that Ms. Hallenga had died at the age of 38. A spokesperson for the organization said that she had died at her home in Cornwall, England, and that the cause was breast cancer.

“Survival has never been enough,” she said during a publicity tour in 2021. “I don't want to just survive, I want to be able to really look at my life and say, 'I'm happy to still be here, and I'm making the most of it what I want from life.'”

Kristen Hallenga was born on November 11, 1985 in Norden, a small town in northern Germany, to a German father and an English mother, both teachers, according to the Times of London. When she was 9, she moved to Daventry, in central England, with her mother, Jane Hallenga; her twin sister, Maren Hallenga; and their older sister Maike Hallenga, all three survive her. Her father, Reiner Hallenga, died of a heart attack when she was 20 years old.

Ms Hallenga first felt a lump in 2009, when she was in Beijing working for a travel company and teaching. During a visit home to the Midlands, central England, Ms. Hallenga visited her internist. She told the Guardian that her doctor had attributed the lump to hormonal changes associated with her birth control pill.

But the lump became more painful and a bloody discharge developed. Another internist gave her a similar diagnosis to her first: hormones and the pill. But because Ms. Hallenga didn't know what would be considered normal, she had nothing to judge by.

“I didn't touch my boobs at all,” Ms. Hallenga said in 2021. “I didn't know anything about them.”

But Ms Hallenga's mother, whose own mother had breast cancer at an early age, insisted her daughter be referred to a breast clinic. When she was diagnosed, eight months after finding the lump, Ms. Hallenga's diagnosis was terminal. It had also spread to his spine.

After an aggressive course of chemotherapy, a mastectomy and hormone therapy, tests revealed in 2011 that the cancer had spread to her liver, she later told the Huffington Post. A year later, doctors discovered the cancer had spread to her brain and she underwent intense radiation therapy to remove a tumor.

But he continued to work despite his illness. He wrote about his cancer diagnosis and his advocacy work in a column for his local newspaper, The Northampton Chronicle and Echo, and The Sun. But it was his work with CoppaFeel that reached his target audience: young people.

The organization sent thousands of reminders for breast self-exams via SMS, organized a group of women known as Boobettes who go to schools to talk about their experiences with breast cancer at a young age, helped add awareness of cancer education program in Britain and aired what was believed to be the first nipple in a daytime television advertisement encouraging people to learn about their breasts.

It was all done in the hope that others could avoid a diagnosis like the one Ms. Hallenga was undergoing.

“Cancer often comes with a package of terms – survivor, thriver, warrior – and it's great if someone wants to base their existence on those words, if it helps them get through the day – if it helps them get perspective, great” , said the lady. Hallenga said when her memoir was published. “But for me, I've never been able to resonate with those words. Why do I say that unless I'm happy to be alive, then what's the point of surviving?”

In 2017, Ms Hallenga stepped down as chief executive of CoppaFeel to move to Cornwall and spend more time with her sister Maren. Last June there was a living funeral at Truro Cathedral in Cornwall. Her dress code was YODO: You Only Die Once. Dawn French, who played the village priest in the BBC sitcom “The Vicar of Dibley,” led the celebration of her life.

“I have never felt love like this,” Ms. Hallenga wrote on Instagram after the event. “I have never felt such joy. I have never felt such an affinity with mortality. I have never felt so alive.”

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