Henrietta Lacks

When the pandemic began to effect my life, seriously I was reading “Living” by Annie Dillard, an excellent writer, but the story got to be so dreary, I picked up Willa Cather’s book “The Professor’s House.” I knew I could count on Willa to give me some sense of redemption – not in the self-centered way, but rather in the universal sense. Now I’m reading a book my daughter recommended to me a few years ago. It’s called “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks,” by Rebecca Skloot. I didn’t know it, (and maybe I still don’t know much) but Henrietta Lacks was the person whose cells, called the HeLa cells, revolutionized the advancement of medical research, especially for cancer. Everyone is supposed to have heard of these, but few knew how scientists got their hands on them, or at least it wasn’t published readily, so Rebecca thought it time to reveal the story of the person from whom they borrowed these cells. She dug into family history, and Henrietta Lack’s daughter, Deborah became a source for the story. Rebecca quotes Deborah, in the first chapter:

I always have thought it was strange, if our mother cells done so much for medicine, how come her family can’t afford to see a doctor? Don’t make no sense. People got rich off my mother without us even knowing about them takin her cells, now we don’t get a dime. I used to get so mad about that to where it made me sick and I had to take pills. But I don’t got it in me no more to fight. I just want to know who my mother was.