Lien’s hep B story
Recently, I took my two little daughters to Melbourne Zoo where they enjoyed chasing the birds, and the three-year-old told me about the giant lions with a lot of love “Mommy, look! Oh, baby lion!” Sometimes we have friends coming over on Saturday. During the week, I study and have a part time job. It's just an ordinary life for many people but for some time after I got the hepatitis B diagnosis, I could never imagine such a stunning life.
It was early 2003. I was at my first year at University in Vietnam and was happy to be awarded a scholarship to study overseas. For Vietnamese students from the countryside, there was nothing more hopeful and proud than getting a scholarship and going to Europe to study.
I had no idea about hepatitis B until I went to a health check for the scholarship paperwork. The doctor told me that I had hepatitis B and I could not go abroad! That’s all he told me that day; no more information and no referral. I was freaking out.
After being so hopeful with winning the scholarship and heading to Europe, I now believed there was no future for me. Evenmore so, my grandmother had died from liver cancer and I thought the same thing would happen to me. So I rejected the scholarship and continued the study in Vietnam.
I told my mum about the diagnosis and she blamed herself because she could not get me vaccinated even though she tried to when I was little. In the 1990s, my hometown was a small village in a north eastern province of Hanoi – the capital city of Vietnam. People were poor and did not have awareness about vaccination.
One day, the local health worker advised that a mobile health service would provide hepatitis B vaccine to the children in the village at their parents’ cost and asked people to register. My mum signed me up even though they were not among the rich people in the village, and hepatitis B vaccine was very expensive for them.
However, too few people signed up and the service was cancelled. It hurt me when my mum immediately recalled the story and blamed herself for not trying hard enough, and thought it was her fault that I got hepatitis B.
That was 13 years ago. She is now relieved because she knows hepatitis B can be well managed and I am ok.
Vietnam implemented the free universal hepatitis B vaccination in 2002, two years after Australia. I’m glad that children born today in both Vietnam and Australia have access to the hepatitis B vaccine, and I believe vaccination coverage will ensure that there is no mum suffering the same feeling that my mum had to experience, and no child rejecting a good education opportunity in the way that I had to do.
After some time in depression, I decided to go on the internet to learn about hepatitis B – I don’t know why I did not think of going to a doctor.
I found out I could live with hepatitis B as long as I had a healthy lifestyle with regular liver health monitoring. Life went on, I finished my university, had a job, married the man I loved, and had two children with him.
We moved to Australia in 2015 for my study and it was when hepatitis B came back to me - this time is in a positive way. I joined Hepatitis Victoria as a volunteer from August 2015 and then got more involved in hepatitis B community education, especially for the Vietnamese community in Victoria.
I recognized that if the community is informed and empowered, if they are aware of prevention and management, not only can they take better care for themselves, but also other people in the community, no matter if they live with hepatitis B or not.
I was asked by SBS news on World Hepatitis Day, at the launch of the Victorian hepatitis B strategy 2016-2020 about what I wished for. The answer was: Seeing the happiness of people living with hepatitis C clearing the virus, I wish there would be a cure for hepatitis B available soon. Then one day I can say “I used to live with hepatitis B, but now I’m cured”.