Jean Kittson talks about managing health, work and family
Juggling family with work commitments, and keeping on top of her own wellbeing, is a happy challenge for Jean Kittson, one of our most-loved performers. Due to her family history, Jean lives with an increased risk of macular degeneration – Australia’s leading cause of blindness. Yet, she says, she loves her life and wouldn’t have it any other way.
Jean lives with her husband and one daughter in Sydney. Another daughter is in London, while her elderly parents, Elaine and Roy, live an hour and a half to the north. Both in their 90s, Elaine and Roy are dealing with increasing ill health. Having lived with macular degeneration for over 30 years Elaine has very little sight remaining. Roy has macular dystrophy, and his vision loss is just beginning to have an impact on his independence and his role as primary carer.
“We are a close family, I do things with my own family whenever they let me and we all try to visit my parents once or twice a week,” said Jean. “Mum and Dad still live independently but when they need some assistance, the whole family pitches in. As an example, my nephews, who live in Newcastle, will often drive them to Sydney for their ophthalmology appointments, and my sister is exceptional at navigating the aged care system to find the right help.”
Eye checks are a priority
With a direct family history of macular degeneration, Jean has a 50% chance of developing the disease, and this is a fact that weighs on her mind.
“It bothers me that I might develop macular degeneration because I have seen what has happened to my mother. If you lose your sight, you also lose so much of your independence. You can be mentally and physically in good health but then you lose your sight, and you have to rely on others simply to drive down the street for milk, or to pay your bills.
“You also miss sharing many meaningful experiences; reading books and seeing movies, the photos from family and friends, a beautiful sunset, a sparkling sea, the grandchildren all dressed up for their first formal. You not only need enormous courage, but you have to try to find a whole new way of connecting – because so much of our personal connection comes through sharing visual experiences, including emails, Facebook and Skyping. My main concern is the thought of it happening to my daughters, my niece and my nephews.”
It’s the thought of the enormous loss that vision loss imposes that drives Jean to maintain a close check on her eye health. “Quite frankly, I don’t manage my general health down to the last detail, but once a year I’ll make sure I catch up on my check-ups, and now that I’m in my 60s, there’s a lot to check: my hearing, my skin, my eyesight... the list keeps growing.
“However, with my family history in mind, I do make sure that I get an eye test and macula check every year, and I try to eat as many salads and vegies and fish as possible. I’ll push my health as far as I responsibly can – but I try not to put my sight at any additional risk.”
We’re all juggling so much – but that’s life
Jean said fitting family and parents and work into her life and taking care of herself is a matter of doing what needs to be done. “We are having children later and our parents are living longer so we find ourselves in this ‘sandwich’ situation, where we are often doing more for other family members than we expected at this age. The important thing is to find ways of not stressing about it. Having a wholly supportive family is my secret ingredient. I don’t do it alone.”
“I count my responsibilities as a blessing – I love to be able to care for and be with my parents – I love the fact they’re still alive – I’m really thankful for that. They teach me so much and have given me so much love and support over the years, so I don’t feel that doing small things for them and spending time with them is a burden. I feel the same about my husband and daughters. To me, this is life and I love having all of them in my life – I wouldn’t have it any other way.”