Founders of 'boob checking' charity Coppafeel aim to put cancer on the curriculum

Twin sisters Kris and Maren Hallenga set up the charity when Kris was diagnosed with incurable breast cancer at the age of 23

Like many identical twins, Kris and Maren Hallenga hold themselves in the same way, crossing their arms across their chests as though protecting their tiny frames from the slightest breeze. Their matching smiles are toothy but beaming as they welcome me at Truro station, where I meet them on a mild May afternoon.

A twin myself, I recognise instantly the subtle interactions between the two 28-year-olds. Kris greets me with a hug, while Maren hangs back next to the car, letting her sister take charge. As we drive to a quiet café, Kris is the first to strike up conversation, with Maren chipping in occasionally as she searches for a parking spot.

As similar as the sisters are, one enormous difference lurks beneath their bright blonde hair and bubbly enthusiasm. Kris, who is seven-minutes older than her sister, was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 23. A week later, she learned her cancer was incurable. She has stage 4 cancer and, as she so frankly puts it in her forthcoming documentary, Kris: Dying to Live, there is no stage 5.

We settle down to chat and I quickly learn frankness is the norm with these two. The pair, who set up the charity CoppaFeel two months after Kris's diagnosis to encourage young girls to check their breasts for lumps, recently teamed up with The Sun to launch the "Check 'em Tuesday" campaign, using some of the most famous breasts in Britain to spread their boob-checking message.

It was a decision that led some charities and anti-Page Three campaigners to accuse the pair of sexualising the disease, trivialising the emotional and physical damage that breast cancer can wreak. I ask whether they ever worry about alienating charities that have backed them from the beginning. "We don't need everyone to agree with what we do," Kris says. "But if Page Three is here to stay, then we're going to use it for something good.

"We've had one lady come forward, an avid Sun reader, who because of the campaign has now been diagnosed with breast cancer. That's gold, right there, and should shut anyone up," she adds. As if to temper her sister's fiery response, Maren pipes up. "We talked to a lot of people, other breast cancer charities and our supporters," she says. "We didn't go into it lightly and we didn't make the decision overnight, but it was something that we couldn't not do given the huge audience we were going to be speaking to."

These girls don't take any crap, especially not from the disease that will one day claim Kris's life. They take their message to music festivals across the UK and have set up their own "FestiFeel" to show young people that "boob love rules". They're even off to Parliament at the end of the month to talk to MPs about putting cancer awareness on the school curriculum.

"It's a tough nut to crack but that's the ultimate aim," Kris says.

Read more: 'I never ask my doctor how long I've got'
Charities criticise The Sun's 'Check 'em Tuesday'

It is difficult to tell which twin is actually sick as they chatter animatedly about the charity, their childhood and the future. I'm initially wary about mentioning the dreaded F word. When you have stage 4 cancer, how far do you plan ahead? "We talk about exciting things that we have to look forward to, like holidays," Maren says. "But we don't tend to plan things too far in advance."

"But then we never have," Kris says. "We've never been like, 'so you're going to have five kids and I'm going to live in the granny flat in the garden'. That's never really been us, so we wouldn't change now."

But things are changing. In March, Maren got engaged to her partner of eight years, Graham. She stretches out her ring finger to reveal the new jewel, a smile spreading across her face. Unsurprisingly, Kris was the first person with whom she shared the good news.

"I was so excited, I thought I was engaged," says Kris, glancing at her sister and giggling. Kris isn't dating anyone at the moment ("I'm seeing my cat!") and I ask whether she finds it difficult to watch her biological double casually tick bullet points off the growing up To-Do list while she tussles with hospital appointments and hair loss.

"It's not really jealousy," Kris says. "There's never really a situation when you can hold these things against each other because it's just as tough for the other person – she's just not feeling the physical effect of it. It's more of a mental thing for her."

And when the treatment stops working? For the first time in our interview, they seem lost for words. "We never go 'what if', or discuss what would happen," Maren says.

"Because there isn't anything to discuss," Kris says. "It just happens. We're so conscious of it happening, that's enough."

Until then, clichéd as it sounds, the sisters seem determined to cram as much as they can into the time they have left together: planning Maren's wedding, furthering the charity, making sure every young girl checks her boobs, and having a hell of a lot of fun along the way. As Kris says, you can't polish a turd but you can roll it in glitter.

'Kris: Dying to Live' is on BBC 1 on Sunday at 10.55pm"

Arts and Entertainment
Joe Cocker performing on the Stravinski hall stage during the Montreux Jazz Festival, in Montreux, Switzerland in 2002
musicHe 'turned my song into an anthem', says former Beatle
Clarke Carlisle
footballStoke City vs Chelsea match report
Arts and Entertainment
theatreThe US stars who've taken to UK panto, from Hasselhoff to Hall
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
Life and Style
ebooksA superb mix of recipes serving up the freshest of local produce in a delicious range of styles
Life and Style
Approaching sale shopping in a smart way means that you’ll get the most out of your money
life + styleSales shopping tips and tricks from the experts
newsIt was due to be auctioned off for charity
Coca-Cola has become one of the largest companies in the world to push staff towards switching off their voicemails, in a move intended to streamline operations and boost productivity
peopleCoca-Cola staff urged to switch it off to boost productivity
Sir David Attenborough
environment... as well as a plant and a spider
'That's the legal bit done. Now on to the ceremony!'
voicesThe fight for marriage equality isn't over yet, says Siobhan Fenton
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Austen Lloyd: Regulatory / Compliance / Exeter

    Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: Exeter - An excellent opportunity for a Solici...

    Ashdown Group: IT Support Technician - 12 Month Fixed Term - Shrewsbury

    £17000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Helpdesk Support Technician - 12 ...

    The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

    £28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

    The Jenrick Group: World Wide PLC Service Engineer

    £30000 - £38000 per annum + pesion + holidays: The Jenrick Group: World Wide S...

    Day In a Page

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

    Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

    Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
    Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

    Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

    Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
    Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

    Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

    Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

    Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
    Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

    Autism-friendly theatre

    Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

    Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

    Panto dames: before and after

    From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

    Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

    Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

    Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
    The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

    The man who hunts giants

    A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there
    The 12 ways of Christmas: Spare a thought for those who will be working to keep others safe during the festive season

    The 12 ways of Christmas

    We speak to a dozen people who will be working to keep others safe, happy and healthy over the holidays
    Birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends, new study shows

    The male exhibits strange behaviour

    A new study shows that birdwatching men have a lot in common with their feathered friends...
    Diaries of Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf and Noël Coward reveal how they coped with the December blues

    Famous diaries: Christmas week in history

    Noël Coward parties into the night, Alan Clark bemoans the cost of servants, Evelyn Waugh ponders his drinking…
    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    From noble to narky, the fall of the open letter

    The great tradition of St Paul and Zola reached its nadir with a hungry worker's rant to Russell Brand, says DJ Taylor
    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore: A prodigal daughter has a breakthrough

    A Christmas ghost story by Alison Moore

    The story was published earlier this month in 'Poor Souls' Light: Seven Curious Tales'