Learning about Henrietta Lacks

March 5, 2010 at 7:22 pm 1 comment

I have a lot of time on my hands in doctor’s offices lately.  Believe me, I am not complaining one bit but just noticed on occasion that I need to wait for my blood work to come back before I can talk to the oncologist. This can take about 3o minutes at times.  So, instead of reading for school which I need to do, I read for pleasure. The latest book I finished is called The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot.

I highly recommend this book.  Although it is non-fiction, it reads more like fiction. In style, it reminds me of the books And the Band Played On by Randy Shilts or A Civil Action by Jonathan Harr.  What is amazing, first off, is that this is Skloot’s first novel. She spent 10 years writing and researching it and every bit of her talent and knowledge shows.

But what is even more impressive is the story.  Skloot shows considerable respect and consideration for Henrietta Lacks family but also shares a picture of the medical community that is a bit shocking at times, amazing at others.  There are many topics that are contained in this book – medicine, ethics, family, race, science, and most of all, love.  I finished this book in days and found it gripping through and through.

Henrietta Lack’s cancer and the subsequent cells, referred to as HeLa cells in the medical community, have helped develop many cures (polio for one), medicines and other scientific discoveries through extensive research.  But this came at a price.  No one asked Henrietta’s husband if they could take swabs of her cells.  However, the kinds of laws about patient consent, research on cells, and cell culturation did not exist the way it does now.  The medical community took blood from the family, never explaining why. Henrietta’s daughter Deborah thought it was to test her for the same cancer that her mother had, in essence to see if she had it.  There was much left out of the explanations to the family, if there was any at all.  They shared the medical history of Henrietta, again not something that would happen today. Most remarkable of all, there are organizations that sell HeLa cells for upwards of $200+ per vial. And the Lacks family? They do not have consistent medical insurance, if any at all, and have never received any type of royalty or other compensation for all that HeLa cells have done for the medical community. And for the world. But this is not what they seek.  They, more than anything, wanted to learn about their mother. What happened to her, what her cells have done in the name of research, and overall, to understand.  Skloot gave all of this to them and more.

I highly recommend this book and greatly appreciate Entertainment Weekly for profiling it. It is simply the most amazing book I have read in a long time.


Entry filed under: Books, Miscellania, Relationships, research, thoughts, well-being, Who is?. Tags: , , , , , , , , .

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1 Comment Add your own

  • 1. A year in Kindle « Living the Life Less Traveled  |  December 23, 2010 at 1:43 pm

    […] Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks  – read my book review post here.  Or my review from Amazon: I read this book faster than I normally do (and I read fast). This is […]


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