This week we feature an interview with Mei Mak as part of our series to spread awareness of liver health. Mei Mak is a lived-experience speaker and HEPHero who has been involved with LiverWELL since 2017.
Mei Mak’s advice for people living with hepatitis is to be brave and curious. She urges people to try not to feel shame about having a liver condition and encourages them to seek out information and education about liver health.
Mei was diagnosed with hepatitis B after a routine blood test. Her disease is dormant, so she only needs to monitor it every six months. Mei wishes she had been given more information about hepatitis B early on so she could have taken better care of her liver.
These days, Mei is feeling good and healthy. Living with hepatitis affected her health and taught her to take better care of herself. She tries to eat healthily, get sufficient sleep, exercise, and not stress too much. She says the COVID-19 pandemic of the past few years has been particularly challenging for people living with an illness as many found it difficult to get medical help. Mei feels grateful she was able to attend appointments as well as her liver check-ups which have been a blessing.
Mei is the mother of teenagers. She used to work in the finance sector but like many lost her job during the pandemic. Now she works as a personal stylist for mothers and entrepreneur women. She volunteers at her children’s school uniform and bookshop. Mei also volunteers at LiverWELL as a hepatitis B advocate, where she is involved in speaking engagements to spread a message of hope in facing and dealing with liver disease.
Mei wasn’t aware of hepatitis B or C before arriving in Australia. She says the care she has received since being diagnosed has been good and consistent. Her family has been encouraging, regularly checking in on her to see how she is doing. Being a volunteer at LiverWELL means she has received valuable support and learned much about liver health. She is grateful. However, she is aware others have had different experiences. Mei has witnessed some people with limited English who have struggled with medical appointments but she has been pleased to see interpreters helping those patients.
She wishes there were more facilities where people living with hepatitis can learn more about their liver disease and receive support such as education sessions on how to keep healthy and knowing where to seek professional help.
Stigma is not something Mei expected to face but unfortunately, she has. On one occasion, someone asked her if she had AIDS. She recalls being taken back by this and feeling “speechless”. At other times, people have asked her whether her hepatitis is contagious. Mei puts these experiences down to the public having a lack of understanding and knowledge about hepatitis.
Mei is looking forward to an end to liver disease. She hopes that doctors, nurses, the community, and the public seek to embrace and understand it, as they would with any other illness. She wants people to know there’s no shame in having hepatitis and hopes the stigma surrounding liver disease can one day be a thing of the past.
If you enjoyed this interview with Mei, be sure to check out our other interviews with Chloe Pedley, Inga Tribe and Amanda Wade. Articles and interviews by Sarah Liversidge, Journalism student from RMIT University.