In 2009 at the tender age of 23, Kris Hallenga found a lump. She wasn’t aware at the time that breast cancer could happen to younger people and so she hadn’t been checking her boobs, wasn’t getting to know her body, and wasn’t made aware of the early warning signs.
She saw a number of doctors who each told her that the lump she had found was hormonal, it was probably a symptom of being on the pill, and that she was young so it was nothing to worry about. At the time there was little-to-no information around about the fact that young people can get breast cancer, and so of course she believed them.
Fast forward eight months and Kris started to get pain that would wake her up at night. She felt unwell and her breasts had actually started to bleed so, on her mum’s insistence, she went back to get another opinion and asked to be referred to the breast cancer clinic.
It was there that a mammogram scan finally confirmed that she had breast cancer.
When she explained how she was also experiencing pain in her back they scanned her further and, a week later, found that she also had cancer in her spine. The dark news that it was secondary (terminal) cancer is a terrifying diagnosis for anyone, let alone for someone so young. The chat quickly changed from the urgency of breast cancer treatment plans, to palliative care and how best to manage her pain…
Founding a Life-Saving Charity
Kris was angry that no-one had told her that she could have breast cancer in her twenties and frustrated that it had taken her so long to be diagnosed. She was angry that there was such a lack of awareness around the fact that early diagnosis could have saved her life. So she transformed that negative energy into a driving force for good and, just three months after diagnosis, she founded the breast cancer charity CoppaFeel!.
Watch the trailer to the documentary ‘Dying to Live’ :
CoppaFeel! is a charity which aims to give everyone the best possible chance of surviving breast cancer. They do this by educating all young people about the importance of early detection and empowering them with the confidence to learn what is normal for them. Armed with this knowledge, the charity gives young people the confidence to see a doctor if they notice any changes.
Living with Cancer
It is now 12 years after her original diagnosis and Kris is living in Cornwall. During these past 12 years she has gone through stages where the cancer is stable, and then there are other times when it rears its ugly head in another part of her body. Since her original diagnosis, Kris has had tumours in her pelvis, brain, hips and liver and most recently, they found some cancer growth in her adrenal glands. Until this recent discovery, Kris had enjoyed the longest period of stability she has known since her diagnosis.
Kris survived far longer than anyone could have expected when she received her original diagnosis in 2009. Doctors don’t really know how Kris is doing this. Perhaps it is her grit and determination, as she explained in a recent interview with The Guardian,
“I really think a massive chunk is having this sense of purpose and drive to survive because I still have things to do, to prove and to achieve. I think that’s boosted every cell in my body. Every single cell is thinking: ‘We have to stick around for this’.”
A self-proclaimed ‘control freak’, Kris has always been a very active participant in her personal treatment choices. She has chosen to work with oncologists who are forward-thinking and who have confidence in Kris’ ability to know her own body. As well as taking advice from her doctors, she does her own thorough research and works with her oncology team to bring about a holistic treatment plan which works for her.
Through her work with CoppaFeel! and being in the public eye, innumerable cancer patients approach Kris asking for advice on cancer treatments. They are keen to know how she has survived this long and what her ‘secret’ is. Kris is always very quick to explain how cancer treatments are very personal – what works for her cancer and her body may or may not work for the next person’s cancer. She would urge anyone being diagnosed with cancer to do their own proper research and find what works for them and their situation.
“When you’re diagnosed with cancer you have that feeling of losing all control. You’re in your doctor’s capable hands, but you start looking for ways to boost your immune system so that your body is fortified and more able to deal with the drugs. You start looking for ways to gain a better understanding of your body and how you can help it work with you, not against you”.
Alongside ‘conventional’ cancer treatments, Kris uses a variety of things to complement her treatment and to help her live a more rounded, healthier life. She is sage in her explanation of why she uses complementary therapies, saying,
“People can be quick to judge when you use therapies not prescribed by your doctor, but if something makes you feel good, lessens your pain and helps you live a more full, happy life then does it matter if it doesn’t yet have the scientific documents to support it? Surely the proof is in the pudding?”
Using practices such as mindful breathing, hyperbaric oxygen therapy, acupuncture, cold sea swimming, clean eating and yoga all help her live a full and happy life. Kris also has regular mistletoe infusions which she says increases the tolerability of chemotherapy and exerts a possible benefit on tumour control.
She is also a huge advocate of CBD oil which is how we came to meet Kris, and how she became an ambassador of EthicaCBD.
A Cancer Patient’s Experience of CBD Oil
When Kris embarked on her initial quest for knowledge regarding cancer and CBD, she was frustrated to find that there was an enormous lack of clear information available. This is because it is actually illegal to lay claim to the benefits of using CBD as it is not registered for medicinal use (yet!). This makes it very difficult to cut through the swathes of information required to make an intelligent and informed decision.
Kris said that she was frustrated that there was such a lack of info because she knew that the hemp plant had certain benefits, it was just a matter of tapping into them in a clean, measured and informed way. Perhaps because of the startling lack of clear advice available, Kris actually started using cannabis oil (which is illegal in the UK) and she says she didn’t get on with it at all. She experienced bad side effects (paranoia) due to the high levels of THC and really didn’t benefit from it whatsoever.
Then she found CBD oil and everything changed.
Firstly CBD is legal. It is an extract from the hemp plant and boasts a whole host of properties. Hemp seeds are a source of vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, fibre, essential fatty acids and amino acids, all of which contribute to a healthy body and mind. Kris said that she found taking CBD oil helped her sleep, it helped with pain management, and it helped keep her calm when she had anxiety waiting for scan results. It made her feel better, and she loved it.
Like with everything, Kris was meticulous in her research when it came to choosing which CBD oil to take. She said,
“There are so many CBD products out there in the marketplace that you have to be careful about which you choose because it’s not always clear what is put in them. I love what EthicaCBD stands for because it is a local Cornish brand that focuses on being as natural, ethical and sustainable as possible. The products are pure and have no heavy metals or ‘nasties’ and the brand is transparent in everything it does which offers peace of mind”.
Looking Ahead for Kris
At the time of writing, Kris has just undertaken a 96 mile walk around the West Highland Way with pal (and chronic pain sufferer) Gail Muller. The two women showed their bodies who is boss and truly pushed them to the limits (don’t mention the blisters!) all in aid of CoppaFeel!
Kris has also spent the last year writing a book (released in August) about her experiences of ‘Glittering a Turd’ (the way she light-heartedly describes living with cancer). The book is a story of an ordinary girl who, with a side-serving of cancer, makes life extraordinary. We can’t wait to read it and urge you all to sign up to receive a copy too!
Kris is an inspirational, formidable, incredible woman and we are so proud that she has decided to join the EthicaCBD community as an ambassador. We are only scratching the surface of what can be achieved with the magnificent wonder plant and are delighted to have Kris on board to help us spread the word about the benefits of hemp and CBD to all those who need it.
As Kris quite beautifully summarises:
“There isn’t a magic cure to cancer, but if you can find things that help with the symptoms and help you to live more happily then you’re already halfway there”.
Follow Kris at @howtoglitteraturd