On 01.02.02, I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. Too late for surgery, I had chemotherapy, which failed. In May the chemotherapy was changed and I was soon in remission which was celebrated and welcome and lasted nine years - until October 2011. There was progression in 2011 so more treatment was indicated and I am now back in partial remission. But I'm not only a cancer patient - I also enjoy my family, walk my dogs and am learning to draw and paint. Life is good!

Saturday, September 10, 2011


The Immortal Life of Henrietta LacksThe Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This is such an amazing book - amazing because it opened my eyes to something I knew absolutely nothing about.  I'm not particularly scientific so to learn that cell lines can exist "forever" and continue to grow prolifically for countless generations was all news to me.  In this case, a young African American woman, Henrietta Lacks, developed cancer in about 1950.  Cells, known as HeLa cells, from her tumor were cultured and grew and grew rapidly - and continue to grow today.  Tubes of her cells have circled the globe as researchers from many countries have bought them to use in their work.

There are several strands of interest here.  The book is nonfiction, this really happened and is happening now.  So one feature is simply following the history of Henrietta, who died from her cancer, and the lives of her children. (Some are alive.)  Another salient issue has to do with medical ethics - who owns cellular tissue, who gets the profit, must patients give consent if tissues are taken and used for experimentation?  This is all murky as the field of bioethics is still in its own infancy.  A third thread of the book is about the author and how she tracked down the complete story, a medical mystery unfolding as we turn the pages- and I couldn't turn them fast enough.

But the most important part to me was the fact that Herceptin, a monoclonal antibody I have been receiving in the chemotherapy suite since May, 2002, was one of the drugs developed after the researchers used HeLa cells. This woman, born in 1920, is one of the reasons I'm still alive.  Amazing!

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