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Analysis of The Inmortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot Essay

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The novel, The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot is divided into 3 sections: life, which tells the reader about Henrietta’s life and the birth of HeLa; death, which consists of times after Henrietta’s death, and lastly; immortality, which discusses how Henrietta’s cells have become immortal. Overall, the book is based on Henrietta and the lives of her children and how they cope with the way medical science has treated their mother. Though the book is not written in chronological order, Skloot does a good job of organizing her information according to its section.
The first section, life, tells the reader about the beginning of HeLa. Henrietta’s symptoms began shortly after the birth of her fourth child, Deborah. Henrietta felt a knot inside her, but after only a week, Henrietta was pregnant with Joe, her fifth and final child. Four and half months after having Joe she started bleeding but it was not her time of the month. She asked her husband, Day, to take her to the hospital. At Johns Hopkins gynecology clinic, the doctor took a small sample of her lump to send to the pathology lab and sent her home. A few days later, she got her results saying the lump was “Epidermoid carcinoma of the cervix, stage 1” (Skloot 27). While admitted in the hospital, she received radium treatment, and while unconscious, Dr. Lawrence Wharton Jr., “shaved two dime-sized pieces of tissue from Henrietta’s cervix: one from her tumor, and one from the healthy cervical tissue nearby” and placed the samples in a glass dish (Skloot 33). Her cells were given to George Gey’s lab assistant, Mary Kubicek, who was handling most of the tissue samples at Hopkins. So far, all of the samples Mary Kubicek tried to grow had died. She was handed Henriet...


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... when “HPV inserted its DNA into the long arm of her eleventh chromosome and essentially turned off her P53 tumor suppressor gene” (Skloot 213). This allows the cancer cells to produce monstrously virulent cells, making them hard to kill.
After sixty years HeLa cells are still one of the most popular cells in the world. They were not voluntarily taken, but they have been one of the biggest contributions to society. Without them many viruses would never have had a cure and hundreds of people would have died. However, because Henrietta lived her cells were taken from her. Without her life and death, her cells would never have become immortal like they are today. Her cells continue to help and cure people from diseases and viruses other cells would not be able to help.



Works Cited

Skloot, Rebecca. The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. New York: Crown, 2011. Print.


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