Readers Talk

Watch what other readers have to say about The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, and submit your own video.

Oliver Finney Tara A. BissettAmanda KindermanRaymond Lucas Stephen Curry PhDRamona A. KanneJoy McAuleyRenata Davies

If you have read The Immortal Life Of Henrietta Lacks, we want to hear from you!

Since the book was published, readers of all kinds — scientists, teachers, nurses, librarians, members of book groups, high school and college kids, people old and young from all over the world — have emailed, written to and faxed author Rebecca Skloot sharing their thoughts about HeLa, and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks. So many readers have been personally touched by her story. We want to hear from you too!

Tell us what you think in a short video. Did the book change the way you think about cells, science, medical practices, research, race, American history, the way cancer is treated? What is your relationship to HeLa? Did HeLa cells help save your life of the life of someone you love? Did the book change how you think about your own research? Were you touched by the story of Henrietta’s family? If the book moved you, we want to hear about it.

Share Your Story – Submit Your Own Video

It’s simple. Record a short video (target length: one minute) and share what The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks has meant to you. Your webcam or a cell phone/digital camera’s video function is perfect. Three easy ways to get your video to us:

Post the video to Facebook. Go to the Henrietta Lacks Facebook page, click the “video” link at the top of the wall, and then select “record video.” Your video will record and post right there on the wall – easy as that!

Post the video to YouTube. Then send an email with a link to your video to Renee Coale.

Deliver the video via file sharing site. Upload the video to YouSendIt or another file sharing site. Then send an email with download information for your video to Renee Coale.

Two important details:
(1) Please do not have any music playing in the background and
(2) Please tag your video “HenriettaLacksReadersTalk.”

If your video is chosen, we will be in touch and will ask you to sign a release so we can feature the video here on the Readers Talk page.

Want to share your story but can’t send video?

Join the conversation on the Hela forum →

“Having grown up in Texas in the 1940s, I have opposed racism on an intellectual level for many years, but I have always known that there was something inside that remained untouched. It’s like the difference between reading an author whom one knows ought to be respected, and eventually choosing to read that author because of the value (s)he adds to our life.

Reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and the election of Barrack Obama have worked to change my feeling about race in fundamental ways. I have grown to value Ms. Skloot’s book as, among other things, a ‘how to’ book on race relations. It has nudged me toward my better self in a way that few other books or events have done.”

—Oliver Finney, harpsichord maker, Lawrence, KS

“I am a stay at home mom, in a book club with other stay at home moms, and The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks was this months’ book selection. I will admit, I was more than a bit leery about reading a nonfiction/science book for ‘fun’ but with the first chapter, all those nerves were put at ease. Rebecca is an amazing author with the ability to make a very difficult subject (both cells and Henrietta’s {and her family’s} life) not at all hard to read about. I laughed, I cried, I was shocked, but most importantly, I was educated. Educated on the concept of cells (which sadly I had not retained from my early biology classes) as well as the history of the woman, Henrietta Lacks, who gave our world the HeLa cell- even if the ethics of it are still in question.”

Thank you for sharing her story with us. I cannot wait to sit with the other ladies in my book club and discuss this AMAZING book!

—Tara A. Bissett, Homemaker, Darnestown, MD

“I work at a cancer hospital on the campus of the University of South Florida and your book hits home in a big way. I knew nothing about where informed consent started or the history of cancer research until I read Henrietta Lacks’ story, and now I am more informed about what I do every day. I collect tissue from patients who sign informed consents so that we may supply them to researchers and pharmaceutical companies to develop clinical trials and new drugs. It was Henrietta Lacks who gave me the job I have today.

I have recommended this book to so many people, even ones who aren’t big on science and history, because it is a story that everyone should know.”

—Amanda Kinderman, Research Specialist at Moffitt Cancer Center

“I’ve seen HeLa cells myself in the microscope but I never thought much about them beyond counting their number to check that my cultures were thriving. I grew HeLa back in the mid-nineties, litres at a time, to infect with poliovirus. This provided milligrams of purified virus particles that I could use to examine how poliovirus shifted and shimmied to trick its way into a susceptible cell. I didn’t know where the cells came from—sorry, who they came from. I was focused on the science, thinking only of how to get my experiments to work. I had quickly swallowed the pseudonym—Helen Lane—that had been put out by the scientists at Johns Hopkins to ‘protect’ Henrietta’s anonymity and never paused to question the circumstances of their origin.

But I have now. And [now] whenever I hear “we infected HeLa cells” or “here you can see the effect in HeLa” or noticed that four-letter label on a slide, the image of Henrietta floats into my mind’s eye. Hands on hips, smiling, she is here, watching us, following the proceedings.

In reality, of course, she’s not here and she’s not aware of our discussions. But in the darkened conference hall I still feel the need to nod acknowledgement and whisper ‘Thanks.’”

—Stephen Curry PhD, Professor of Structural Biology,Biophysics Section, Blackett Laboratory, Imperial College, London (from a review of the book on his blog on Nature.com)

“I wish I had known Henrietta.”

—Ramona A. Kanne, Homemaker, Parkville, Missouri

“You clearly captured the indifference and horrible treatment experienced by African Americans in the pre-Civil Rights era of the early 50’s … I know that I have, along with many family members, personally have benefitted from the research conducted with Ms. Lacks’ cells … my life and the lives of loved ones have been extended because of what science learned from Ms. Lacks’ cells.”

“However, while I bask in the joy of extended living and joy for me and many close to me for Ms. Lacks’ incredible sacrifice, I would give that back in a nanosecond if the trade-off was ensuring that someone like Henrietta Lacks was not exploited and suffered in the horrid way that she did.”

—Raymond Lucas, President, 100 Black Men of Maryland, Inc.

“By now, all of us have likely had some medical treatment that has been influenced by HeLa, and it is a humbling thought. Without Henrietta Lacks and others like her, who knows if I would still be alive now to write this?”

—Renata Davies, Radiographer, UK

“Thank you for writing this book and giving the Lacks family their due. … I laughed and I cried.”

—Joy McAuley

Named by more than 60 critics as one of the best books of 2010

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The Henrietta Lacks Foundation

The Henrietta Lacks Foundation strives to provide financial assistance to needy individuals who have made important contributions to scientific research without their knowledge or consent.