Study Guide

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks Chapter 5

By Rebecca Skloot

Chapter 5

"Blackness Be Spreadin All Inside" (1951)

  • After her radium treatments, Henrietta went back to her usual life. She didn't seem to be sick from the radiation.
  • Though she lived in Turner Station with Day and her children, she went back to Clover on the weekends to work the tobacco fields. She'd sneak out with her cousin Sadie to go dancing.
  • Sadie tells us more about Henrietta's personality. She loved to have fun, was generous and hard-working and very meticulous about her physical appearance, especially her nails.
  • She always kept her fingernails and toenails covered with fresh red polish.
  • Everyone loved her fun-loving attitude and generosity. Except one person: Ethel, wife of her cousin Galen. Word was that Galen liked Henrietta more than his own wife.
  • By the time Henrietta had her fifth child, Joe, she could no longer handle Elsie on her own.
  • Though she loved and took good care of Elsie, her epilepsy and inability to communicate were too much for Henrietta.
  • So Elsie was committed to the Crownsville Hospital for the N**** Insane. Relatives said that this devastated Henrietta, even though she continued to visit Elsie every week.
  • Henrietta was able to keep her cancer secret from everyone until she had to start x-ray therapy, which required her to go to Hopkins every day for a month.
  • She broke the news to her cousins Sadie and Margaret, but told them she'd be okay. Which seemed to be the truth at that time.
  • But she started bleeding again pretty badly and went through more radiation therapy.
  • Henrietta also had to deal with another reality: she couldn't have any more children. The Hopkins team hadn't told her about infertility from the treatments.
  • And more bad news followed. After her x-ray therapy, Henrietta became very ill. The skin on her trunk was burned from the treatments, and she felt a burning inside.
  • She told her cousins that she could "feel that blackness" spreading inside her.

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