Comedian and actor Jean Kittson has made us laugh many times over the years, but she’s now using her skills in a new area – women’s health – with a book about menopause.
Where did the motivation to write a book, (amusingly called You’re Still Hot To Me – The Joys of Menopause, published by Pan Macmillan), come from? Kittson says she found menopause difficult herself and couldn’t understand why there wasn’t enough information readily available about the topic.
“I just couldn’t find the facts,” she says. “People kept steering me off in this direction and that direction, and then when you find out the facts about these things, you realise you really need to know the risks and the benefits before you start treating yourself.”
Kittson’s book is full of information about menopause, delivered in her trademark witty style, with added entertainment from humorous cartoons, supplied by Kittson’s husband, well-known satirist and cartoonist, Patrick Cook.
Long a champion of women’s issues, particularly health issues, Kittson was a founding ambassador for Ovarian Cancer Australia, inaugural Chair of the National Gynaecological Cancer Foundation and this year was the ambassador for Breastscreen NSW to encourage women to get regular screening.
In regards to the often taboo subject of menopause, Kittson says she was concerned that women were affected by this major change in their lives but they often didn’t know what to do or just how much it was affecting them.
Jean Kittson’s husband, Patrick Cook, drew this cartoon for her on one of her later birthdays. The moment Kittson’s publisher saw the cartoon, she said, “that’s the title of your book.”
“That was my main thing,” she says, “how it can affect you as a person and how you feel about yourself, and life and everything. It can affect women in so many different ways. Sometimes it can have profoundly and devastating effects on their relationships and their families. So for me it was a fantastic journey exploring fertility and women’s fertility and our hormones and how it affects us.”
Kittson says menopause can be a major hurdle for many women in their 40s and 50s if their menopause symptoms are severe and they don’t get the right treatment. Since writing the book, she has seen statistics that suggest 51 per cent of women over 50 aren’t in jobs.
“If you look at the research, it’s shocking. There’s all this information about working into your 70s but is it possible?” she asks.
She adds at this time in women’s life, many have worked their way up the corporate ladder and are enjoying their working life when they start experiencing anxiety or sleeplessness.
“We’re discovering that many women leave work because they’re experiencing menopause symptoms like anxiety and they think they’re not coping at work because they don’t actually understand they’re experiencing symptoms of menopause,” she says.
Kittson says it’s important for people to know there are both proven treatments and other newer treatments that work for some people, and it’s a case of exploring all the different ways that people can manage menopause.
She added that many GPs don’t get enough training on menopause and tend to think it’s a “natural” part of life and women should “just get on with it”.
“I don’t know whether it’s because we’re middle aged women or because people don’t die from menopause so they don’t bother, but there’s just so much more information out there that could help us,” she adds.
Comedian Jean Kittson is on a mission to get people talking about menopause
“GPs can sometimes dismiss women who are really suffering,” she adds. “It’s very important to find a good GP who knows about menopause, the treatments available and doesn’t just prescribe antidepressants.”
Kittson says a lot of GPs feel safer prescribing antidepressants to women with menopause rather than HRT (hormone replacement therapy) and yet the latest information available has found HRT is beneficial to women.
“It’s all clinically proven and World Health proven, that there are many health benefits for women if they do HRT in the first five years of their menopause,” she says.
Many women are still affected by research that came out in 2002 from the Women’s Health Initiative, which connected HRT with breast cancer. Kittson says when this research came out “the whole world media went mad with it and HRT use dropped by 80 per cent in America”.
New research that came out in 2012 from the International Menopause Society set the record straight. As Kittson explains: “It showed how the previous study was flawed and the average age of the women in the study was 63 and included women who were much older – some even in their 70s – and women who were overweight, all of whom already have increased risk of breast cancer. The new study proved HRT can have a lot of benefits and that for many women the health benefits outweigh the health risks.”
“They found with the more recent research that HRT didn’t lead to breast cancer and it had all these health benefits – it reduces your bowel cancer risk, your heart failure risk. They found that in the first five years of your menopause, the health benefits of HRT far outweighed the health risks. And women can benefit by being able to live a full quality of life, so it means women no longer feel they have to leave work because of menopause,” she adds.
“They also found HRT is an effective treatment for the prevention of osteoporosis. The consensus also said the use of custom compounded bio-identical hormone therapy was not recommended.”
“This means there’s a whole generation of women who’ve not been appropriately treated,” she says. “There’s also a whole lot of GPs who are not equipped to deal with women’s health issues in middle age. They’re nervous about prescribing HRT and their patients are nervous about taking it.”
Women experience menopause at different times in their lives. Kittson says 14 per cent of women will go through menopause in their 30s and many more will become peri-menopausal in their early 40s.
“You can get your first hot flush when you’re 40 and not know what it is. Many women get their last period when they’re 42. There’s not a lot known about all of this,” she adds.
“There’s this general impression you can have babies easily into your 40s and that menopause starts at 52 and that’s like the end of it. But in actual fact, your fertility starts going down the tube, so to speak, much earlier,” she laughs.
Jean Kittson chats about her new book with Caroline Baum
“If we’re embarrassed about going through menopause when we’re in our 50s, then what message is that sending to our younger women? It’s not our mind, it’s not our capabilities or abilities – it’s just our hormones,” she adds.
Kittson emphasises there are still a lot of taboos when it comes to the subject of menopause: “A lot of women don’t really want to talk about it,” she says. “A lot of people still deny our female biology. They want to be in the workplace and to be equal to the men, and for them it means denying any of our biology affects us. That’s where I think the women’s movement gets into trouble because we’re not the same as men.”
She points out the problem with menopause is many women are ashamed of it because they think it ages them. “They think they’re past their use-by date,” says Kittson. “Some women feel they no longer have a use because they’re no longer fertile.”
How do you go about treating menopause?
Understandably, many people have read Kittson’s book and found it’s helped them find their own way through menopause: “I’ve been so gratified that it’s helped so many people, men and women, because that was the point of it,” she says.
Kittson recommends finding a doctor who understands more about the issues of menopause, mentioning that the Australasian Menopause Society can recommend doctors who are well versed on the topic.
Of course, Kittson’s book will give you a lot of the information you need and she makes what is really a very serious topic, funny and entertaining – as she always does.
“It’s a very funny book so you can read it in bed or when you’re in the bath,” she laughs.
Kittson also recommends these websites if you need more information:
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