by Erin K. | | 2 Comments | Tags:

Welcome back to the Online Book Club discussion of The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks.

This section was a little more science heavy—were you able to make it through?

Can you believe how Henrietta’s cells were so valuable to medical research? First, Jonas Salk used her cells as he was developing the polio vaccine. That fact alone is incredible, and every person in the U.S. benefits from that development. Then, scientists started using the cells in research about other diseases, exposing them to other viruses like measles, mumps, and herpes. The cells were also instrumental in helping scientists discover that normal cells have forty-six chromosomes.

The chapters that talked about the hardships each of Henrietta’s children faced after her death were really, really sad. Ethel, the woman that moved into the house to take care of the children, absolutely terrorized them. These poor children had already lost their mother, so it was doubly sad that a woman that was supposed to be a motherly figure would treat them so poorly.

Another big part of this section centered on the discovery that Henrietta’s cancer cells were contaminating other cells. The HeLa cells could fly through the air or travel on the lab coat of a doctor and could affect the different tests that researchers conducted in their labs. I thought this part was a little confusing. What did you think of these chapters? Did you understand why this contamination could be such a big deal?

Rebecca Skloot writes a lot about Henrietta’s family and her interactions with them in this section. The family has struggled to understand how Henrietta’s cells have been used, and they felt taken advantage of by different people and groups. What did you think of the family, especially Dorothy? How do you think you would react if you were in their shoes?

The movie version of this book stars Oprah Winfrey as Dorothy. To promote the movie, Oprah and other cast members visited different talk shows. On Dr. Oz, they were able to see a sample of Henrietta’s cells, and they discussed her contributions to medicine. If you’re interested to see how Oprah reacts to seeing Henrietta’s cells for the first time, watch this clip.


In this one, Dr. Oz explains more about how Henrietta’s cells were used.

I’m really interested to hear what you thought of this section, so make sure to leave a comment for me. If you are watching or have watched the movie version, make sure to tell me what you thought.

I hope you’re able to finish the book and join the discussion next week!

2 Responses to “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, Week 3”

  1. Carrol

    This story is so interesting. I have to admit there were a few times when the scientific details were a little overwhelming, but overall I was able to keep up.

    I really like the sections when Skloot is specifically talking about the family. Like them, I keep imagining how much easier their lives would have been if they had been given compensation for these cells.

    It really is amazing to read about all the ways these cells have helped us. Thanks for the Dr. Oz clip. His explanation was helpful.

    I was so upset with Ethel. How could she treat these kids so horribly. It was so sad to read about the anger in Henrietta’s youngest son and his terrible actions that ruined his life.

    I am really anxious to see how this story ends.

    • Erin K.

      I’m glad you’re still like the story, Carrol.

      The sections with the family were my favorite sections as well. It was interesting to imagine how different their lives could have been if they would have had more information about their mother.

      I’m glad you like the Dr. Oz clips. I found his explanations to be really helpful, too.

      I hope you are satisfied by the end of the book as you read it!


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