April 21, 2021

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks: Non-Fiction Account of a Woman and her Cancer Cells

On a morning walk, my male dog met a female pooch he really liked. Upon striking up a conversation with the other dog’s owner, I found out that this woman was a freelance writer. She advised me to write about what one knows, her area of expertise being science. We exchanged names at the end of our pet playdate and went our separate ways. At home, I googled the woman’s name only to discover that she had written the bestselling book “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks: Non-Fiction Account of a Woman and Her Cancer Cells.” Rebecca Skloot was a freelance writer, indeed!

The Chicago Public Library found me an audio version of the popular book. I found myself staying in the car after I had arrived home so I could finish yet another chapter. Science is not my usual reading fare, but Skloot’s prose kept me riveted with the story of Henrietta Lacks, her family, her daughter in particular and the strange journey of her indestructible cancer cells. The author has created a work that limns a picture of the micro story and expands it to encompass world-wide cancer research and the economic implications of tissue ownership. We are invited into the life of Henrietta in the racially- charged 1950’s and follow her progeny into the current day. We also see the dogged determination of Skloot to interview the major players in this science story, even when they initially rebuff her approaches.

By book’s end, I realized I had been enlightened on a topic that had been previously obscure to me. I await a second book from this author, knowing that her writing and exhaustive research will draw me into yet another realm of scientific wonder. As a final note, Oprah has teamed up with HBO and Alan Ball (creator of the tv series “Six Feet Under”) to do a tv telepic based on the book so you will be hearing more about Henrietta Lacks.

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