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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

August 28, 2012

Hey everyone!

First I want to give a birthday shout out – Happy Birthday to Allie!!! She’s my awesome cousin who moved here to Chicago and is training for Chicago with me. She’s run several marathons before so I’m constantly sending her e-mails with questions! Thanks Allie and have a great birthday!

So first day of law school was fine… haha I only had one class so it wasn’t bad. It was just so weird to be back, I never made a ton of friends at the school so I didn’t have many people I was looking forward to running into… Hopefully I’ll make a few friends in my classes this year. It’s so hard at this age though because we’re in and out on our own schedules and most people have jobs, families, etc. We’ll see how it goes!

So Sunday, however, was an AWESOME day! I started off with my 12 mile long run. I honestly didn’t know how far I’d make it since my legs just felt exhausted all week, but once I got past the first two miles I really hit a groove and had a great time with the run!

I ended up taking part of my run all the way down Navy Pier, and when I turned around I saw this!

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Can you tell it was windy? Although the last two miles were tough, I finished off strong and really enjoyed the run! I ended right by a water fountain so I drank a ton of water (sorry everyone waiting behind me…) and stretched out in the park. 12 miles, done!

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Afterwards I went home, had some breakfast and a had a little time to rest and relax before it was time for book club! A few of us Chicago bloggers started up a book club from the facebook group and this month was hosted by Kelsey! Her apartment had a gorgeous view and she did a wonderful job setting out a spread for all of us! We all brought some food and I had brought granola and black berries to use as toppings for the yogurt Chobani sent!

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I really did have a great time. It was nice to meet some new bloggers, and to just sit there and talk about things with women who all have very similar interests! Oh, and we discussed the book for about 5 minutes…

For you all, however, I’ll do a quick review! The book we read this month was The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot (don’t worry, I laughed at her last name too).

The book describes the true story of both Henrietta Lacks, how her cells changed science and medicine, and how Rebecca came to learn of the real story behind Henrietta and her family. Henrietta began her life as a poor Southern tobacco farmer and moved to Balitmore with her husband and children. At only 30 years old she was diagnosed with cervical cancer and grew ill rather quickly, passing away and leaving behind her family. While she was at Johns Hopkins, a doctor took a sample of her cancer cells, which were used in testing to find cells that would survive in culture. Hers did while no others could. Her cells became famous, referred to as HeLa, and were used by scientists in medical breakthroughs for centuries because of their ability to survive and reproduce.

Rebecca, the author, hunts down Henrietta’s family and the book not only follows Henrietta and HeLa’s stories, but Rebecca’s story as she very slowly begins to earn the trust of Henrietta’s loved ones, and unravels their history, as well as helps them to make peace with the fact that Henrietta’s cells are not only helping science, but making billions of dollars while they can’t afford health insurance.

I really enjoyed reading this novel and, honestly, I would never have picked it out on my own! It just didn’t sound very interesting since when I read for pleasure I prefer fiction. This book was fascinating to me, however, because I have both a biology and legal background. I loved hearing about the cells and how they were used for research (nerd alert!).

Beyond that, however, I also was just captivated by the book! I really could not put it down, I was just waiting to see what happened next, in both the past story and the family’s current story. I loved that Rebecca would switch back and forth from the history of HeLa to her present with the family. Each character that she wrote about seemed so real (well, they were!) and I felt like I totally understood them and their personality. She had a great way of describing the scene so you felt like you were there.

All of us in the book club enjoyed reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks (even those who didn’t understand the science parts!) so I definitely recommend this book if you’re looking for an interesting life story! I really should read more historical novels, it’s interesting to read and recognize things from your current life (ex: polio vaccine was created using HeLa!).


How do you like historical non-fiction or fiction?


Would you join a book club? What dish would you have brought?

48 Comments leave one →
  1. Chelsie @ Balance, Not Scale permalink
    August 28, 2012 7:31 am

    I’m a TOTAL bio nerd as well — definitely going to have to check this one out! Thanks Katie!! Also, glad you hit your groove during your run (don’t you just LOVE that feeling!). Great pictures too! 🙂

  2. August 28, 2012 7:58 am

    Someone DID take pictures!!! I had so much fun at the book club! Can’t wait until next time. Since we are practically neighbors, we should go for a walk or something!

  3. August 28, 2012 8:35 am

    I’ve wanted to read this book for awhile and this review is definitely helpful! I absolutely love Chicago, such a beautiful city!

  4. August 28, 2012 8:55 am

    I am glad law school is going well and man are you killing this training! You seriously are rocking it.

    • August 28, 2012 4:07 pm

      haha well rocking it up to this week – it’s starting to get to me! Might need to take a couple extra rest days. Thanks, Alex!

  5. August 28, 2012 9:12 am

    I want to join a book club! Seriously, something I’ve always wanted to do.

    Great job on the run, girl!

  6. August 28, 2012 9:50 am

    Strong work on that 12 miler!

    I’ve always wanted to join a book club! I’m glad you girls had a wonderful time. That’s a great idea to do something like that!

  7. August 28, 2012 10:17 am

    i loved that book when i read it! super jealous that i’m not in chicago because i’d love to be part of the book club. i want to join virtually lol!

    way to go on the 12 miles, i know for me it felt so good to have a long run go well, and i am sure you felt the same. navy pier looks awesome, i’ve never actually run there and i’d love to!

    • August 28, 2012 4:09 pm

      I actually did the Navy Pier 10 miler which started and ended on the pier! It was awful though because during the finish you run all the way down the pier and it’s so much longer than it looks! Haha I could see the end in the distance but it was so far away!

  8. August 28, 2012 10:18 am

    Happy birthday, Allie! Sounds like you had a great long run, even if it was windy. I haven’t read “The Immortal Life…” but I might pick it up at some point. A lot of the science-y podcasts that I listen to (I know, nerd alert) have spoken highly of it, and I’m glad that the author is donating some of the profits to Henrietta’s family. I’m glad to hear you enjoyed the book!

  9. August 28, 2012 10:53 am

    Book club was so much fun…I’m already counting down to the next one!! I think the next book will be easier to talk about because we can all relate to it. Maybe we’ll have more of a discussion? Either way I’m sure it’ll be awesome 🙂

    • August 28, 2012 4:13 pm

      Haha I know, we talked about the book for like… 5 min. I’m really excited for hte next one!

  10. liverunlaughyoga permalink
    August 28, 2012 11:22 am

    Book clubs was a lot of fun on Sunday and cant wait to meet you ladies again. This book was very interesting and I enjoyed how she broke down the scientific parts into leighmans terms. Have a great day

  11. August 28, 2012 11:35 am

    I read that book in my book club as well and really liked it. I didn’t think I would — because of the sciency stuff — but I was wrong! I LOVE book club…have been in the same one for three years and we always have a blast! — Ericka @ The Sweet Life (

  12. August 28, 2012 11:46 am

    Your Sunday pictures are so deceptive…if I didn’t know better, I would actually think it was nice that day! Haha. Glad you got your run in, though, and got to enjoy those beautiful views! Whenever I go out for long runs (and sometimes when I go out for weekday runs), I wish I could just skip the first mile or so when my legs are confused as to what they’re supposed to be doing and aren’t particularly happy about it, either. I love hitting your stride and locking into a pace. Such a great feeling!

    Woo book club! Last Sunday of the month = best Sunday of the month!

    • August 28, 2012 4:15 pm

      Haha it was nice before it started pouring and soaked my shoes on the way to book club! Haha good thing she didn’t mind us all being barefoot 🙂

  13. August 28, 2012 12:26 pm

    Glad someone remembered their head. I brought my DSLR and it didn’t come out of my purse. Clearly I had better things going on…like meeting all you ladies. If you want someone to run with, lettme know. I typically run 4-7 miles on weekdays and try to do one longer run over the weekend. I know you train with a group, but if you need someone to chat with for a couple miles, I’m your girl.

    • August 28, 2012 4:17 pm

      Lol it’s slowly been ingrained in me to take pictures! And we should definitely run together sometime, I run with my group on Saturdays, but I do my weekday runs on my own! And I’ll be group-less in 6 weeks!

  14. August 28, 2012 12:35 pm

    Goal in life: find a local book club and join. I’m a huge book nerd so being in a situation where I can discuss a book (and eat awesome food) is pretty heavenly to me.

  15. August 28, 2012 1:09 pm

    Hmmmm that sounds like a book I might like! Soon I will have a bit more time & can dive into more reading!: )

    NICE job on your run!

  16. Angela @ Health's Angel permalink
    August 28, 2012 1:30 pm

    Aw, a book club sounds like so much fun! Also, whatever kind of granola that is…it looks soooo good. Granola is my weakness. 🙂

    • August 28, 2012 4:18 pm

      Lol I can’t even remember! I bought it that morning and left it at her apartment! It was delicious though!

  17. August 28, 2012 2:05 pm

    Wow, 12 miles, that’s awesome!
    I love fiction that has to do with medicine, I’ll have to add this to my reading list 🙂

  18. kelsey permalink
    August 28, 2012 2:33 pm

    ugh how dare you take pictures in my house without including me in the pics!! you know i’m a camera slooot! actually i didn’t even see you take the pics so you’re sneaky sneaky.

  19. August 28, 2012 2:34 pm

    I had to read this book last year for my college (all the incoming freshman had to) and the author actually came to Purdue and talked to us about it all. I’m not a huge fan of non-ficiton books, but this one was pretty interesting, especially hearing even more about it from the author herself.

    • August 28, 2012 4:19 pm

      That’s so cool that you got to hear from the author! That always makes it a little more interesting

  20. Molly L permalink
    August 28, 2012 4:33 pm

    Does your school have Bar Review? I know that’s how I met the majority of my friends from law school. It helps to have law school friends to complain to when doing actual bar review 🙂

    • August 28, 2012 8:08 pm

      Do you mean like an actual bar review course? Or is this like “bar” as in drinking? lol because I don’t think we have one of those…

      • Molly L permalink
        August 29, 2012 12:02 pm

        Oh it’s called “Bar Review” and you just go to a different bar (as in drinking ha) every Friday. Although I did go to ASU for law school so that may explain why we had “bar review”…

  21. August 28, 2012 6:43 pm

    I am currently reading a non-fiction novel as well – totally out of my normal zone. I am hoping to finish in time for our local library book club. I am kind of longing for a good book club to be honest. Unfortunately I don’t really have a good place to host.

    This seems like it was an interesting book. Thanks.

  22. August 28, 2012 7:05 pm

    Gosh I miss running like that… great job on the 12 miles though love 🙂 Historical fiction is my absolute favorite genre of books! Right now I am re-reading Pillars of the Earth as the story allows me to escape to that place, to where the storing is set and ahh I just love it! This book sounds interesting though, I am always looking for something new! And heck yes to joining a book club

    • August 28, 2012 8:07 pm

      I’ve never read pillars of the earth, I’ll check it out! And I miss running like that too… my legs have gotten more and more fatigued, I barely got out 4 miles this morning… we’re talking 4 very very slow tedious miles. It was bad. I might actually skip my 9 miler tomorrow… ugh I hate skipping runs! aaahhhhhhhhhh lol can you see my internal struggle?

  23. August 28, 2012 11:32 pm

    Historical fiction is definitely my favorite book genre, and it has been ever since I could read. The American Girl Doll books were my absolute favorites growing up; it wasn’t until later that I realized how much American history I’d learned while reading them! I love stories that take my into a different semi-fictional world while simultaneously educating me about an real era or time period from the past. I think I’d love Henrietta Lacks; now the obstacle is finding time to read it!

    • August 29, 2012 6:09 am

      Ooo I really think you’d like it too! I got through it rather quickly, so I think you’ll be able to fit it in! Haha hopefully!

  24. August 31, 2012 3:14 pm

    Nice run! I am really bummed I couldn’t make it to book club, but I had to work. Historical non fiction is definitely one of my favorite genres and tI enjoyed this book.

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