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Linking my family to the Lacks family

FatCatRex's picture

I’m still thinking about the ways in which it is either problematic or fruitful to consider us through the lens provided by our family members and descendents.

As EVD posted about earlier, Skloot artfully weaves several distinct narratives and topics into one book. Each thread appeals to me as a reader in a slightly different way, just as my reactions to the narratives vary throughout. After reading in particular about the treatment of Elsie, I felt that this family had just endured too much for it to be fair, and could feel my privilege bearing down on me. On the other hand, as I was reading the Afterword, the term “tamoxifen” jumped out at me. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer seven years ago, and is still here thanks largely to tamoxifen—and thus, thanks to Henrietta. While it may sound cheesy, I get the chills thinking of this connection; I am of course incredibly grateful that HeLa cells led to the development of a cancer drug that saved my mother’s life, yet I feel a little squirm-y now that the direct link between my mother and the exploitation of the Lacks family has been made explicit for me in black and white. I’m sure there are ways that we have all profited from the development of HeLa cells, but none of us like to think of the connection we have to the Lacks’ family struggles.

I suppose what I’m getting at is that while we can all find things in the narrative that speak to us, and can enjoy as readers, I think it behooves us all to think more about the ways we are connected to the Lacks family. I think my interest in the involvement of the family to tell the narrative of an individual (what I mentioned in class Tuesday) stems from my ultimate discomfort at the realization that this family, who is not unique in their struggles and challenges, is related to ME and tells complicated part of my story.

 

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