Saturday, January 21, 2012

A Long Awaited Thank You

Day 109
It may be a record.  Eighteen women with wine glass in hand find a seat and settle in to discuss The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot at tonight’s neighborhood book club. 

What’s even more impressive is seventeen of the group actually read the book. 

Everyone’s talking.  Everyone’s excited to discuss. 

Skloot writes in an easy, conversational way that draws you in to the life of Henrietta Lacks, a poor African American woman whose cancer cells were taken without her consent in the 1950s.  Her cells, named HeLa after the first two letters in her first and last names, launched medical research round the globe and helped scientists develop a polio vaccine and advance cancer treatments and diagnosis, among a long list of other things.

The family, rightfully so, felt violated by John Hopkins “theft” of the cells when they learned of it twenty years after the fact.  Not having a formal education to understand how scientists used the cells, they turned to religion, Voo Doo and science fiction for answers.  (That there is a recipe for a heaping helping of the heebie jeebies.) 

A constant throughout the story is Henrietta’s daughter Deborah’s wish that the world recognize and acknowledge her mother and her role in many of the advancements made in the last several decades.  It’s a fair and reasonable request.      

In the back of the book, the author lists a web address for a foundation set up in Henrietta’s name to benefit her descendents ( and another for the Lacks family (  I click through and send this with the subject line “Ohio Book Club Says Thank You”. 

Last night, eighteen women gathered to discuss the contributions made by and the life of your mother, Henrietta Lacks, after reading Rebecca Skloot's book.  

Around our circle sat a genetic counselor, an IVF specialist and a cervical cancer survivor.  It's difficult to imagine the lives they'd live without the research advanced by your mother's cells.  

We all agree that Skloot did a wonderful job personalizing your mother and paying tribute to your families’ lives through details gathered during her extensive research.  We were saddened that your sister Deborah died before the world publicly recognized and acknowledged the important role your mother played in helping countless people.  

Old wounds heal slowly.  We hope the decades of hurt have begun to heal.  

Please accept our sincerest thanks and gratitude.


  1. Thanks for beautifully summarizing our book club experience. It's wonderful that you communicated to the family everything that we were saying and feeling.

  2. It was a great discussion and an amazing story! I hope Henrietta is watching from heaven and smiling!