Kristin Hallenga: ‘Cancer had never ever crossed my thoughts, not for a second’

Six months later, possessing returned from travelling in China, Kristin was going through ache in her breast, so went back to her physician. He advised her to come off the contraceptive pill, which she did, but her mother urged her to ask for a referral to a breast clinic. There, she was told to wait 3 weeks for her hormones to settle before receiving examined.

“In that time, I woke up with a blood-stained T-shirt,” remembers Kristin. “By the time it was located, the cancer was avocado-sized. One particular week later, soon after I’d had tests on my bones and organs, they told me it was secondary, simply because it had spread to my spine.”

Kristin broke the news to her twin – “the hardest conversation I’ve ever had to have” – and practically instantly commenced remedy: chemotherapy to shrink the cancer, followed by a mastectomy.

“Cancer had never ever crossed my thoughts, not even for a single second,” she says. “It obviously came as a shock to the doctors simply because I was one of the youngest sufferers they’d observed, but I really do not know why, due to the fact medically it is one thing that they know can happen.” Even though her cancer isn’t hereditary, Kristin’s medical professionals knew that her grandmother had had breast cancer at the age of 30 – but did not suggest that this may possibly be a threat factor. “She lived till she was 75 so it wasn’t something I brought up straight away or something they focused on,” she explains. “When my consultant told me the diagnosis, he mentioned, ‘We have been a bit worried about your grandmother possessing it so young,’ but that was information to me. I did not know they were anxious.”

Grappling with cancer at such a young age, Kristin quickly grew to become aware of the lack of assistance – and, crucially, data – for other people in her place. Throughout her first round of chemotherapy, with Maren’s help, she set up CoppaFeel!, a breast cancer awareness charity, which aims to raise the profile of the ailment and get teenagers and twentysomethings checking their breasts.

It started with fundraising at a festival and, in excess of five years, has turn into 1 of Britain’s most broadly supported leads to. Kristin was awarded the Pride of Britain award in 2009, and her searing story has been produced into a documentary, Kris: Dying to Dwell, which will be proven on BBC 3.

Kristin’s message – there is no such issue as “too youthful for cancer” – has taken on specific significance these past handful of weeks. Sophie Jones’s death stunned the nation, but she was not the initial to encounter this kind of an unjust fate. Just before her, there was 23-year-outdated Mercedes Curnow from Cornwall, who died in 2011 of cervical cancer, which went undetected soon after she was refused tests. There was Stephanie Knight, 21, from Hertfordshire, who died of bone cancer final year Diane Stevens, 18, from Studying, who died of breast cancer in 2001. And, of program, Jade Goody, the 27-year-old actuality Television star, who died in 2009 from cervical cancer – and whose death sparked a surge in demand for smear exams.

In accordance to the ONS, 7 13- to 24-year-olds are diagnosed with cancer each and every day in the United kingdom, totalling 2,214 in between 2008 and 2010. Shockingly, cancer is the most common health care result in of death in youthful individuals – yet all as well often we hear tales of fatally late diagnoses. “One in 3 of us get it,” says Kristin. “From a younger age, we learn to cross the street, to brush our teeth – so why are not we learning about a disease that we’re far more than probably to get in our lives?”

Shifting attitudes towards young individuals and cancer, however, is no effortless feat. CoppaFeel! – with its irreverent humour and eye-catching publicity stunts (flashmobs, Tube advertisements, festival stalls) – is generating headway by talking to teens in a language they realize. The up coming phase, Kristin believes, is targeting schools and to this finish she has founded Rethink Cancer, an initiative aiming to get training about all types of cancer integrated into the curriculum. “We require to train teachers as properly as college students,” she says. “Getting young individuals to be aware of the signs of cancer, to start off understanding their very own bodies, is a habit they ought to understand when they are youthful.”

What about the health care occupation? Sophie’s family members have stated they feel allow down by the NHS and Kristin agrees that smear exams must be provided earlier. “I was particularly unlucky with my GP, just like Sophie,” she says. “Her story is horrendous because she was turned down – and I feel anybody with signs must be examined. But I have been extremely careful not to slate the health-related occupation because that doesn’t carry us something. Getting stories like Sophie’s, and mine, out there for doctors to go through and say, ‘I have to pay attention to my younger patients,’ is a lot a lot more helpful.”

Does she blame her medical professional for not selecting up her cancer earlier? “I feel blame at several individuals,” she says. “I don’t necessarily want to blame myself, due to the fact there was practically nothing telling me that cancer could come about. I want I’d had a person like me standing in front of me at school, or university it might have been a trigger stage in that I could have gone to the GP sooner.”

Because she has been diagnosed, she adds, referral practices have changed – so below-30s are no longer instantly classed as “non-urgent” patients. “I could have been waiting up to ten weeks for a scan. So that’s a positive modify.”

All the while, Kristin’s battle towards cancer continues – even though you wouldn’t know it to seem at her, a smiling, pretty blonde with a broad, carefree smile. Since her diagnosis, her cancer has spread to her liver and, most just lately, to her brain. She has misplaced one breast and her hair to chemotherapy. She has appointments at Charing Cross hospital every single month, and takes painkillers daily. “Cancer is kind of my existence these days,” she says. “I do not genuinely think about the long term. I’ve by no means been 1 of those folks who prepare, even before the cancer. I’m just enjoying residing, taking it all in, week by week.”

Tomorrow is Sophie Jones’s funeral. For now, Kristin will preserve on fighting the fight that she lost.

‘Kris: Dying to Live’ is on BBC Three on March 26 at 9pm

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