For six years, harried moms identified with Jane Kaczmarek’s Lois on the FOX comedy Malcolm in the Middle. What they didn’t know was that the Emmy-nominated actress was grinning and bearing it through constant pain from osteoarthritis. In 2004, after the birth of her third child, Jane had one hip replaced, and opted for the second surgery a few years later. She’s teamed up with DePuy Orthopaedics to help promote the Anatomy of Movement Experience, a traveling exhibit dedicated to education about joint replacements.
Now more mobile than ever, Jane, 55, recently joined the cast of NBC’s new sitcom Whitney and is relishing a lighter shooting schedule that allows more time at home with Frances, 13, George, 11, and Mary Louisa, 8. “It used to be that my kids would say, ‘Mom, run after us!’ and I’d say, ‘I can’t because of my hip,’” Jane remembers. “Now they say, ‘Run after us!’ and I say, ‘I don’t want to!’” she adds with a laugh. Jane spoke with Spryliving.com about living with arthritis and the surgery that changed her life.
Spryliving.com : A lot of people hesitate to have joint replacement surgery in their 40s and 50s. Did you?
JK: I didn’t because I was too busy to think about anything! At the time, I was shooting Malcolm in the Middle, and I was pregnant with my third child. Before my pregnancy, I’d been taking Advil for my arthritis pain. I took close to 20 Advil a day, and it got me through the things I needed to do. Once I was pregnant and I couldn’t take anything, I realized how bad the pain had gotten. I did think I was young, but after I gave birth and Malcolm finished shooting that season, I went to my doctor and said, “I need to schedule this surgery.”
Spryliving.com: What was your recovery like?
JK: The relief you get is incredible. And I was amazed at how little time it took to recover. Since I was so busy, at first I thought, “I have to sit around for two weeks? What does one do in that situation?” Then I realized it was actually kind of great! My mom came to stay with me, and cooked and we sat around and read books. It was delightful!
I was really surprised at how uneventful the recovery was. I think I used a walker for about a week, and crutches the next week. You get so vastly better every single day. So, a couple years later when my second hip was going, the minute I felt a twinge of pain, I went to my doctor and said, “When can I have the surgery?” I think I had it the next day.
Spryliving.com: What had your day-to-day life been like with arthritis before that first hip replacement?
JK: At work on Malcolm, the constant refrain for me was, “Don’t you think Lois would be sitting in this scene? Don’t you think she’d be lying on the couch?” On the set, I’d think, “OK, if I can make it over to the doorknob, then I can lean on it.” If I went to a shopping mall, I’d park and go to the stores on that side of the mall, and then have to drive around to the other side to go to the others. You come up with creative solutions to being crippled, basically. But it finally got to a point where I just couldn’t function anymore.
Spryliving.com: Does arthritis run in your family?
JK: Yes. My dad had both of his hips replaced in the ‘80s when it was quite a different world. I knew it ran on his side of the family, and I’d been told I had shallow sockets and it might be a problem. And then my three babies were all born when I was in my 40s, and I gained weight with all of them, adding all of that weight to a bad joint. They were just worn out.
My mother is 84 and she just had her hip replaced two years ago. She was putting it off, but she loves to garden and she couldn’t get on her hands and knees anymore. But I found her a doctor, and her recovery was even easier than mine because they did an anterior [less invasive] approach. I think seeing me go through it helped, and I’m glad she put away any fears she had.
Spryliving.com: I think a common fear is that joint replacements don’t last forever, so you may need to have the surgery again down the road. Was that a concern for you?
JK: No, because I was so beyond leading a normal life that didn’t become a question. And when it comes time to replace them, I figure they’re going to be even better than they are now! But people should talk to their doctors about it. That’s why I was very happy that DePuy Orthopaedics put together the Anatomy of Movement Experience (www.AnatomyofMovementExperience.com). You can read about symptoms, and some of the things that may be happening in your body. I hope it encourages people not to wait as long as I waited; not to put this off or be unduly afraid. It’s an hour and a half operation, and then you have your life back. It was really a blessing.
Spryliving.com: Now that you’re pain-free, what is your fitness routine like?
JK: Well, I’ve never been one of those people who really loves exercise, but you feel so much better when you do it. As you get older, you realize you’ve got to use it or lose it. I’m just glad I’ve got it! I take a Pilates class twice a week, and I’ve been making a concerted effort to ride my bike a lot. I live in Pasadena, Calif., and there are a lot of sidewalks and trees. I also got myself a dog — there’s nothing that gets you out of bed like a German Shepherd licking your face!
Spryliving.com: I know you’re Polish, and I am, too, so I just have to ask: Have you found a way to make Polish cooking healthier, or is it just something you splurge on once in a while?
JK: There is a kind of Polish sausage made in Milwaukee, it’s called Klement’s. It’s fresh, not smoked, and it’s incomparable. I bring it home whenever I’m there, and I have them ship it to me. I haven’t found a way to make it healthy, but I just have it a couple times a year. I say eat in moderation, but eat the real things. You really can’t live without Polish sausage!