Jean Kittson on why you should book a breast exam today

Jean Kittson first made us laugh on tv shows such as 'The Big Gig', Let the Blood Run Free, Kittson Fahey, Good News Week, the Glasshouse, Flat Chat, The Einstein Factor, Media Dimensions and Strictly Speaking.

Today, she is still very funny, is a writer and a passionate advocate for women’s health issues. Kittson is also married to cartoonist and political satirist Patrick Cook and they have two daughters.

Her latest passion project is raising awareness for breast cancer screening. For information relevant to your local area Australia wide visit bcna.org.au.

20 minutes every two years could save your life

Q. Why is it important for women aged 50+ to get a breast screen?
It is important because this is the age group with the highest risk of breast cancer. 75% of all breast cancer diagnoses are in this age group.

Q. Can you explain the concept behind the program you are involved in called Find the NSW 2000?
The surprising and alarming statistic is that in NSW, at this moment, there are 2000 women who have breast cancer and they don’t know it. This is because in NSW alone, around 400,000 women between the ages of 50 – 74, do not have regular mammograms.

Statistically, of these 400,000 women, there will be 2000 women who will have breast cancer. We want to find those women, find the NSW 2000, and urge them to seek treatment as soon as possible.

Breast screening is the best way to detect breast cancer early. It detects cancer before you can feel it or see any changes. Early treatment will be less invasive, and it will have less impact on you and those around you.


2000 women in NSW, aged 50-74, are unaware they have breast cancer

Q. When did you first get tested? What was it like?
I have been having regular mammograms for about 15 years on the advise of my GP. When you are in your forties you should get the advice of a GP before regular breast screening, but between the ages of 50 and 74, breast screening every two years is what we all should be doing.

The first thing I prepared for was pain, because the word on the street was that screening is painful. Or, as the doctors say, “you may experience some slight discomfort”. Never buy shoes from a doctor. But the truth is, if you do experience some “discomfort”, it is very, very brief and this fleeting discomfort is nothing for a woman who has ever squeezed into little lacy bras, or 6 inch heels, or even Spanx, just for a night out. So far I have been lucky. But I know that if something is ever there to be detected, well, the sooner the better.

For years I have been involved in Ovarian Cancer, to raise funds for research into the development of an ovarian cancer detection test. Currently there is none available and consequently many, many women die.

In the case of breast cancer we have proven, readily available, early detection technology and so many women do not use it. We have the opportunity, and women do have or should have the information. What some women do not seem to have is the motivation.

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Celebrity ambassador, Jean Kittson is encouraging women to get a mammogram

Q. What has been your personal experience with breast cancer?
Sadly, I know many women who have suffered from breast cancer, and some who still do. I have lost friends. I had an aunt and a great aunt with breast cancer, and I know that was an extra motivation for me to be vigilant.

On the flip side, there are many women who don’t bother having mammograms because they think “Well, it’s not in my family, I don’t need to.” This is wrong. The fact is, 9 out 10 women diagnosed with breast cancer do not have a family history of it.

Q. What is the life lesson you wish everyone knew?
A life lesson is to take care of yourself. Be kind to yourself. In particular, I think we have to consciously and deliberately look after our body because unconsciously we abuse it. We drive our bodies like an old ute. Please excuse the car metaphor but I was brought up by a mechanic. Car metaphors continue – you have been warned.

We over-rev, with constant high levels of stress and anxiety. Red-lining it’s called, and it’s the quickest way to burn out an engine. We are constantly fanging it. Pedal to the metal. We shove whatever fuel into our bodies that we can find as we dash past the fridge or the sandwich shop.

We don’t get regularly serviced, so we can’t slow down because the brake pads have gone, we barely hold the road cornering because the tyres are bald, and the inside of our car – (our brain, please keep up) - is full of lipstick-smeared tissues and takeaway containers and coffee cups and old stuff you meant to throw out months ago.

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Call 13 20 50 to book your mammogram

Q. What is the best advice you have ever been given?
Chocolate is a medicine.

Q. Do you do regular exercise?
I love swimming. My husband and I swim together. It is relaxing and a good way to de-brief. We swim calmly, meditatively, me in my swimming cap and him in his wet suit. We chat and when we get tense about some topic, we swim away from each other for a while, then we swim back together again. Sometimes he just swims underwater. It is hard to stay tense while floating or swimming.

9 out 10 women diagnosed with breast cancer do not have a family history 

Q. Having a healthy weight is important to help decrease the risks of developing breast cancer. How do you stay looking so svelte?
Spanx and genetically thin legs makes me look svelter than I am. Anxiety increases my heart rate – surely that is a workout. I know I am about 8 kilos heavier than I should be so I need to start swimming faster. Also I have a gym membership I don’t use which is wrong and wasteful and I sold my bicycle which was a good idea because I feel less stress about not riding it.

Because I travel a lot for work, I always take the stairs, not the escalators, and even though my bag has little wheels, I carry it. I also walk really quickly to get my pulse up and to look important at airports.

I try not to use all the labour-saving devices that make our lives so much easier. Well, not all at once. (I draw the line at the TV remote) I look for labour in my everyday life and in that way, I don’t have to go to the gym. I may be living a complete fantasy.

Q. How can men support their partners by encouraging them to get tested?
Dear men, please encourage the women in your lives to have regular breast screens. You could go with them and be a BSB, a breast screen buddy.

You could suggest that they do the right thing by themselves, by their family by their friends, and by their long-suffering men, as they do with everything else. A combination of flattery and urging and cake afterwards is medically proven to be productive.

We want women to have regular breast screens because it could mean the difference between life and death. We want women to make an informed decision – especially the NSW 2000 women who need to make it really soon. In fact why don’t you just pick up the phone and call 13 20 50 and book a breast screen followed by a nice night out. Go!

For information relevant to your local area Australia wide visit bcna.org.au.

Have you had a personal experience with breast cancer? Join the conversation below.

Want to help?
Australia’s Biggest Morning Tea is on Thursday 26th May, but you can hold a fund-raising morning for the Cancer Council any time in May or June. Visit www.biggestmorningtea.com.au for more information.