You know those books that seem to invest so much emotional intensity that you’re not sure if you could read it twice? I found this book to be one of those. I finished it fascinated but exhausted and the themes, events and anecdotes came back to me again and again in the days after I read it.
That doesn’t mean I regret reading it. At all. It was whilst facilitating Informed Consent training some years ago, that one of the course attendees first made me aware of Henrietta Lacks and the relevance of her family’s story to the content of the course. I made a mental note of the name and eventually found the book, reading it over that Christmas.
So, what’s it about? Henrietta Lacks was a poor, black woman who lived in America. She died of cancer in 1951 at the age of only 31. She had children and it wasn’t until many years later that her children became aware of the extraordinary story that cancerous cells, taken from her body without permission, would go on to live in labs all over the world and it’s the impact of this on her daughter Deborah that affected me the most as I read.
Her cells “live on” and are constantly replicated through the HeLa (from Henrietta Lacks) line. Cells removed from her body without consent, and sold to generate an unknown wealth all over the world. I’d certainly recommend anyone involved in research/ consent to read this book but be prepared for an emotional read.