Author Topic: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot ~ Oct Book Club Online  (Read 7659 times)

BooksAdmin

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The Book Club Online is the oldest  book club on the Internet, begun in 1996, open to everyone.  We offer cordial discussions of one book a month,  24/7 and  enjoy the company of readers from all over the world.  Everyone is welcome.

October Book Club Online

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
by Rebecca Skloot

"There's a photo on my wall of a woman I've never met, its left corner torn and patched together with tape.   She looks straight into the camera and smiles, hands on hips, dress suit neatly pressed, lips painted deep red.  It's the late l940s and she hasn't yet reached the age of thirty.  Her light brown skin is smooth, her eyes still young and  playful, oblivious to the tumor growing inside her-a tumor that would leave her five children motherless and change the future of medicine." -Rebecca Skloot


http://www.nytimes.com/2010/02/07/books/review/Margonelli-t.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0

http://www.biography.com/people/henrietta-lacks-21366671

http://www.lacksfamily.net/




"For Henrietta, walking into Hopkins was like entering a foreign country where she didn't speak the language."  (pg.16)   Do hospitals frighten you, whether you are a patient or a visitor?


John Hopkins Hospital:    http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/the_johns_hopkins_hospital/   Somewhere in those slides you can see the original building that Henrietta visited.  Huge and impressive. One of the top hospitals in the country, they did treat black patients but segregated them in "colored" wards.  Have any of you ever visited John Hopkins?


"Henrietta and Day (her cousin five years older) had been sharing a bedroom since she was four, so what happened next didn't surprise anyone." (pg.23)  Was there an adult living in that household?   Certainly Grandpa knew better; didn't care?
 Why do you think this was allowed?
 
The year was 1941, Henrietta and Day got married and both worked in the tobacco fields.  America was at war and the tobacco companies were supplying free cigarettes to soldiers.  My husband, in the Navy then, remembered those and although he never smoked then, many of our soldiers started a lifelong addiction.      Is there anything about war that we do better today?


Bethlehem Steel, 30,000 employees, a gold mine for black families:   https://www.facebook.com/Bethlehem-Steel-Sparrows-Point-Remembered-130389707036916/ - click on the slide show and think of listening to that awful noise all day long.  How do we prevent factory noise today for the workers?


What new thing or things did you learn about cervical cancer?


Doctors of this era were taking samples of cervical cancer without the patients' knowledge, using them for research.  How would a person know if a doctor is still doing it today?
 
"the plasma of chickens, puree of calf fetuses, special salts, blood from human umbilical cords."   What were these used for?


"Lord, it just feels like that blackness be spreadin all inside me" Henrietta said.  What was she referring to?   What moved you about Henrietta's life and death?


Had  you heard of the Tuskegee syphilis study before?





Discussion Leaders: Ella, Adoannie, PatH 

Mkaren557

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I have had this book on my bookshelf since I bought it in 2010 and yesterday I was pulling books to send to Goodwill and into the bag it went.  However, I was too tired to drive to Goodwill so after I saw this, back onto my shelf it went.  I hope I have time with Latin and my Austen class to keep up and contribute. 

Annie

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When are we starting?  Ella says Oct. 1!  Is that okay with you, PatH?

Mkaren, we are looking forward to your joining the discussion.  This is a fascinating book.  An engrossing story. 
 
"No distance of place or lapse of time can lessen the friendship of those who are thoroughly persuaded of each other's worth." Robert Southey

Ella Gibbons

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Karen, I hope so too, it's such an interesting book and the author makes the science easy to read, easy to learn.  And then there's the life of Henrietta.... 

WHO KNEW ABOUT HENRIETTA BEFORE THIS BOOK?  IT'S AWESOME STUFF!   

"No one knows who took the picture {on the cover] but it's appeared hundreds of times in magazines and science textbooks, on blogs and laboratory walls.........She's simply called HeLa, the code name given to the world's first immortal human cells-her cells, cut from her cervix just months before she died."

We hope all of you will join us in discussing this book. 

Ella Gibbons

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I just saw your post ANN.   Yes, we are starting October 1st.  So you have plenty of time to get to the library and get your copy and start reading.

The book is in 3 parts, we'll start, of course, with Part One.  We are going to be different; we shall have no dates, we'll decide when to go on to the next part.   Some parts are more interesting than others to discuss, so we shall just trip along merrily and see how it goes!!!

Ella Gibbons

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I can get boring, OH, DEAR!  But I want you to be sure to read the PROLOGUE:  I quote:

""the family (Henrietta's family) had found out just a few months earlier that Henrietta's cells were still alive, yet at that point she'd been dead for twenty five years.




PatH

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Karen, have you read the book, or was it a failed TBR?  For some reason, when it came out some remarks in the reviews put me off, so I never looked at it.  But when I picked it up for this discussion, I couldn't put it down.  It's a fascinating story, with lots of stuff to discuss.

bellamarie

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I'm going to check with my library today for the book.  Sounds interesting. 

Does anyone know if the discussion for middle September has been cancelled?  I had that book on hold and was going to pick it up today.
“What on earth could be more luxurious than a sofa, a book, and a cup of coffee?...Was ever anything so civil?”
__Anthony Trollope, The Warden

Annie

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yes, Bella, we will discuss "Two Old Women" in November.

"No distance of place or lapse of time can lessen the friendship of those who are thoroughly persuaded of each other's worth." Robert Southey

bellamarie

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Thank you Annie for responding.  😉 I was able to get both books today, so I will just renew them a few times.  In the meantime, I'll glance over them. 
“What on earth could be more luxurious than a sofa, a book, and a cup of coffee?...Was ever anything so civil?”
__Anthony Trollope, The Warden

kidsal

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Re: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot ~ Oct Book Club Online
« Reply #10 on: September 14, 2016, 05:28:16 PM »
OK Will listen along.

PatH

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Re: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot ~ Oct Book Club Online
« Reply #11 on: September 14, 2016, 08:27:05 PM »
Kidsal, it's a really good story. You won't be sorry to be involved.

Ella Gibbons

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Re: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot ~ Oct Book Club Online
« Reply #12 on: September 15, 2016, 10:38:06 AM »
My library has bookmarkers with suggestions for different kinds of books, like mysteries, historical fiction, biographies, etc., and BOOK CLUBS.  I've read a few of them, we've discussed one or two and this book is on the book club list.  My branch had a copy of it and I brought it home and was immediately interested in it.

It will, honest, intrigue you also.  Get a copy.

maryz

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Re: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot ~ Oct Book Club Online
« Reply #13 on: September 16, 2016, 08:32:44 PM »
I read this several years ago when it was first mentioned here.  It's a fascinating book/story.  At that time, the author was interviewed on BookTV - and it might still be available on their web site.  I probably won't reread this, but I'll lurk in the discussion.
"When someone you love dies, you never quite get over it.  You just learn how to go on without them. But always keep them safely tucked in your heart."

PatH

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Re: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot ~ Oct Book Club Online
« Reply #14 on: September 16, 2016, 09:43:54 PM »
Great, maryz.  Talk to us too from time to time, tell us what you think about the whole story.

JoanK

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Re: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot ~ Oct Book Club Online
« Reply #15 on: September 20, 2016, 05:57:06 PM »
'll be in the discussion, too. I've started the book, and am fascinated.

maryz

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Re: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot ~ Oct Book Club Online
« Reply #16 on: September 21, 2016, 06:22:51 PM »
Here's the link to the 2010 BookTV interview with the author.  (Can't believe it's been that long!)

https://www.c-span.org/video/?292685-7/immortal-life-henrietta-lacks 
"When someone you love dies, you never quite get over it.  You just learn how to go on without them. But always keep them safely tucked in your heart."

bellamarie

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Re: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot ~ Oct Book Club Online
« Reply #17 on: September 22, 2016, 07:22:13 PM »
What a wonderful interview, thank you so much for supplying the link Maryz.  I am looking forward to reading and discussing this book even more so now after seeing the author and hearing how it all came about.
“What on earth could be more luxurious than a sofa, a book, and a cup of coffee?...Was ever anything so civil?”
__Anthony Trollope, The Warden

heavenseden

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Re: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot ~ Oct Book Club Online
« Reply #18 on: September 24, 2016, 05:03:20 AM »
I agree thank you Maryz for sharing the link. I look forward to the book discussion.

PatH

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Re: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot ~ Oct Book Club Online
« Reply #19 on: September 24, 2016, 08:32:24 AM »
Welcome, heavenseden.  It's good to have you.

RobbieRocheleau

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Re: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot ~ Oct Book Club Online
« Reply #20 on: September 26, 2016, 06:50:19 AM »
I have the book, and would love to be able to join the discussion.

PatH

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Re: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot ~ Oct Book Club Online
« Reply #21 on: September 26, 2016, 08:44:47 AM »
Welcome, Robbie!  We're glad to see you here.

Ella Gibbons

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Re: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot ~ Oct Book Club Online
« Reply #22 on: September 26, 2016, 10:15:30 AM »
Thank you all for posting your interest.  You won't be disappointed in the book.  What a good group we have forming!   Wonderful!

Annie

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Re: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot ~ Oct Book Club Online
« Reply #23 on: September 26, 2016, 11:33:41 AM »
Thanks for that link, MaryZ.  Very interesting!  What is the name of that other book that was written about cells that have been taken from patients?  I will have to listen to the interview again. 
Welcome to all who will be discussing this most interesting story with us.  It's quite amazing!
"No distance of place or lapse of time can lessen the friendship of those who are thoroughly persuaded of each other's worth." Robert Southey

Ella Gibbons

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Re: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot ~ Oct Book Club Online
« Reply #24 on: September 27, 2016, 12:50:55 PM »
MARY, I just finished listening to our author on the site you provided. There was some static, but I think I heard most of it.  And then I googled a few other sites on the Web including HELA.  One could spend hours reading, but then I decided to just stick to the book. 

The picture on the first page is of cells multiplying? "THERE ARE ABOUT ONE HUNDRED TRILLION OF THEM IN OUR BODIES,  EACH SO SMALL THAT SEVERAL THOUSAND COULD FIT ON THE PERIOD AT THE END OF THIS SENTENCE"   How in the world do they manage to separate them to get just one cell?

Actually I am reminded of a huge spider web in which the prudent spider has stored food for hard times.

Had any of you read this book before or heard of it somewhere?  What caught your attention?

bellamarie

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Re: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot ~ Oct Book Club Online
« Reply #25 on: September 27, 2016, 05:27:47 PM »
I have never heard of this book before now, and after listening to the link MaryZ provided it got my attention.  I know very little about HELA cells, and am interested in the whole story, especially Henrietta's family.
“What on earth could be more luxurious than a sofa, a book, and a cup of coffee?...Was ever anything so civil?”
__Anthony Trollope, The Warden

PatH

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Re: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot ~ Oct Book Club Online
« Reply #26 on: September 29, 2016, 06:23:06 PM »
I'm a chemist, not a biologist, but, like anyone who works in a biomedical environment, I knew about HELA cells, and the advances and setbacks of the research.  What I dont remember is when we learned her name wasn't Helen Lane.

I never read thebook until now, though.

JoanK

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Re: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot ~ Oct Book Club Online
« Reply #27 on: September 30, 2016, 06:20:41 PM »
I heard of the book when it came out, and got a sample for my kindle, but never got around to reading it until now (I have hundreds of free samples on my kindle). I've read the first bit, and am ready to go.

Ella Gibbons

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Re: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot ~ Oct Book Club Online
« Reply #28 on: September 30, 2016, 11:22:51 PM »
(up late tonight, and I may sleep in tomorrow, so I'll post now)

Honestly, I don't know where to begin to discuss the book - the Prologue, Deborah's Voice - both full of interesting stuff we could spend a few days on, I was intrigued right from the beginning, but the book begins and unless you want to comment on either of those sections let's proceed.

"In those days, people didn't talk about things like cancer" -pg.14    Was that true when you were young?  When did you first learn about the disease?

bellamarie

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Re: The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot ~ Oct Book Club Online
« Reply #29 on: September 30, 2016, 11:58:11 PM »
Well, I am up late but will be turning in shortly.  Heavens forbid I just realized it will be October 1st in just a few minutes and I have not read any pages of the book to begin this discussion.  Are we going to have certain chapters to read and questions in the header like usual?  If so, I will wait to see which chapters to read up to.  Check back in tomorrow after grandkids volleyball games and cross country meets.
“What on earth could be more luxurious than a sofa, a book, and a cup of coffee?...Was ever anything so civil?”
__Anthony Trollope, The Warden

PatH

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Bellamarie, we are going to take Part One at first.  That's a lot of pages, but if you read a part, 2 or 3 chapters, that will give you a good start.  The story is very rich, shifting back and forth among several themes and times.  We can get started on many of them in just a few chapters.  There will be questions, posted soon, but in the meantime just comment on anything you find particularly interesting.

PatH

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At last, we can start.  I'm with Ella in finding it hard to know where to start discussing the book.  There are many stories twined together in the book: personal stories, Henrietta's, those of her children and family members, the medical story, the scientific, the ethical, the sociological, and that of Rebecca Skloot's crusade to dig out the whole story.  I'm sure I've left out something here.

Ella asks about attitudes toward cancer in that time and your experience, and I would ask your first impression of Henrietta.

Ella Gibbons

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And the author, Pat.  So much to talk about.  Did you read in the Prologue that the author failed freshman year in high school!  Think you or I could write a book like this?

But back to Henrietta, I remember reading in this Part that Henrietta was born in 1920 into "a small shack on a dead-end road overlooking a train depot, where hundreds of freight cars came and went each day" and a bit of her lives on and on.  I'm so amazed at all of it.

Aren't you?

 


BarbStAubrey

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Reading along here and I had no idea that when you send in a swab to track your DNA for genetic study to learn where you ancestors lived that the cells on the swab are collected and kept in a national bank. Goodness all the stuff that is kept - from phone calls to our cells...

JoanK

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We gradually get to know Henrietta during this section. At first, I saw her as a poor victim, passively accepting whatever happened to her. Then I began to hear more about her. She was the one everyone gathered around, everyone turned to when they were in trouble, always providing a meal, or a place to stay. we all know women like that, and every family that has one is blessed.

Here is a woman who is a force within her own universe, but as soon as she steps out of it, she is lost in a world she has no way of understanding or coping with. This is what discrimination does. In Henrietta's case, probably nothing could have saved her, but in other cases, this confusion could kill.

JoanK

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In fact, the whole book is about this: two different universes, each unable to understand the other. And the author, rushing from one to the other, as lost in the Black universe as Henrietta was in the White, but trying to build bridges.

Annie

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My gosh, I read the discription of how the dr's treated Henrietta cervical cancer(knowing how powerful radium is) I was horrified!  As a newborn, I was treated for an enlarged thymus gland using radiation but I don't know how powerful each treatment was.  Not sure how often my mother had to take me for each treatment.  I seem to remember it was 2 weeks of treatments.  And it worked!  But I read over the years that is wasn't necessary to treat an enlargement as it would return to normal size on its own!  My mother said that the nurses were carrying me around showing everyone how beautiful I was because I wasn't red like all the other babies.  But she was sure that something was amiss and asked the dr about it.  So thats how it was treated in the '30's!  Egad!  I should light up a room!
To this day , I still wonder what Henrietta's dr's thought when she was so badly burned.  The poor soul!
"No distance of place or lapse of time can lessen the friendship of those who are thoroughly persuaded of each other's worth." Robert Southey

PatH

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I'm sorry to say that the horrific burns were very likely the standard result of the standard treatment.  We are seeing the medicine of the time at its worst here, dealing with things they were just beginning to know how to treat.  This treatment very likely gave people a better chance of surviving than anything else they knew to do, or than doing nothing, hard as it is to believe.

In Henrietta's case, given the aggressive survival of her cancer in the lab, I doubt that anything they knew then or we know now could have saved her.

PatH

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In fact, the whole book is about this: two different universes, each unable to understand the other. And the author, rushing from one to the other, as lost in the Black universe as Henrietta was in the White, but trying to build bridges.
The author is trying to penetrate this unfamiliar universe.  Let's watch her as the story unfolds, and see how far she gets.

PatH

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Yes, Barb, it's disconcerting to think one's DNA might be on file somewhere.  There's a possibility for real harm from misuse of the information, too.  There's a lengthy afterword to the book describing the current legal situation in detail, along with current attempts to improve it.