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Follow her as she prepares and partakes the "bread for the stomach" in http://beforesixdiet.blogspot.com/ . And while you are full at it, she offers you the "bread for the soul" in her travels by foot and by thoughts in http://footandfire.blogspot.com/ Happy Reading!

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Thursday, April 13, 2017

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks
Rebecca Skloot, 
Paperback, 313 pages
2010 Broadway Paperbacks

When we hear the names of pills that cure, we usually do not ask how it came to be. We are simply not interested or have no time to research. We are simply hopeful with the promises of cure, and continue with our struggle to get cured. This may be perhaps because pills' names are not based on the name of a person who has contributed to its formulation. Science wanted to appear scientific which often translates to precision, disinterest and .

In this book, the tissue sample taken from the cervix of Henrietta Lacks was named HeLa and she was identified as a woman who eventually died of cervical cancer in 1951 at the age of 31. This footnote in science textbooks and discussions is the springboard of author Rebecca Skloot to ask who is that woman. It eventually became a personal mission for her to know more.

Hela was called "immortal" because the first tissue sample which has the cancer cells of Henrietta divided so aggressively and infinitely that it solved the problem of most researchers looking for tissue samples to do drug testings at a time when the existing a normal human cell is known to divide only 50 times and dies, a Hayflick Limit. 

Because HeLa fell in the lab of George Gey who operated the same as a genius-in-chaos and evetually invented a machine from scraps that rotates immitating the flow of blood in the body and later developed techniques to grow HeLa in a lab, a serendipitous meeting started. Then, HeLa was distributed by mail or in transit anywhere in the world that it is needed by researchers. Researchers grew Hela in their own labs and eventually, a company saw the commercial value of growing HeLa and selling it to researchers who need it and who need not go through the hassle of growing their own. George Gey was happy that his role of providing HeLa was off loaded to the company because he can proceed with his research. 

It was later learned that HeLa was infected with a deadly strain of HPV (human papillovirus) and has an active telomerase during cell division which prevents shortening of telomeres that is related to the aging and eventual cell death. I'm no science geek but I grasped the science part of the book.  

But this book is not about science alone. Its heart is the story of Henrietta through the lives of her five children after she died. Her daughter Dorothy "Dale" who grew up motherless and in an abusive environment searched for her mother, and sister who died in an institution at the age of 15 during her lifetime. None of them knew where she was. Lawrence, Sonny and Zakarriya carried their own burden. What is so fascinating in this storytelling is the commitment of the author to her mission of putting a face to the HeLa story. It took her a decade since her first call to the family to eventually do the book.

Lastly, ethical and legal issues on consent of patients in using their removed tissues during operations for purposes of research are put forward in this book. Then in the 50's  and by 2010 when the book was out, consent is not necessary though suggested that it better be secured. This is very important, though not a social issue here in the Philippines. None of same case laws appear in our jurisprudence yet. 

A piece of Journalism meets literature. Well done book debut for Ms. Skoot. 



Saturday, April 1, 2017

To the Stealers of Rembrandts

To the Stealers of Rembrandts
Gerlie Uy (c) 2017

Come on. Not that you admired
the fine strokes of his brushes,
the thickness of his lines and old paints,
or the subtleness of his curves
all under the control of his disciplined pulse.

Come on. Not that you fathomed
the different portraits that he journalled,
the landscapes he captured,
or the mundane events made extraordinary by him
all many events and centuries ago.

Come on. Not that you related well
in the darkness casted with light,
in the plainliness made special,
or in the expression of a fearful or watchful eyes
in every framed work of art.

Come on. You should understand
that stealing his work not simply a crime against property,
but a heavy crime against all of us:
stealing his work seals my chance to see it;
You owe that too to your future grandkins. 

Come on. You should know by now:
a stolen Rembrandts has no ready clean buyers,
and everyone wants it back, even the insurance company.
You just can't make it sit in a barn for years and lose its luster,
a stolen Rembrandts is no good; a mere money in an oasis.


Last 24 March 2017, I released a collection of poems called The Watch to mark the 1st death anniversary of my father. I thought it would be all. I was wrong. He visited me in my dream on the morning of his cremation a year ago. I have to compose something about it. Here it is:

 (Good Morning Tay, 3/30/2017)

Today, a year ago, your body left us.
I remembered because you woke me up
after your short visit in my sleep.
I was reminded:
You left as a free man,
free from all kinds of pain
and free from the burden of worrying
all reserved for the living.
Your body left to become dust in that chamber
after your spirit just flew away with the air.
And now that you are dust;
you will just be around.
Unimposing, but there.
Thank you for reminding me today
that you are a free man
from this worldly affairs
of existing, of living.
Thank you for reminding me today
That I am a free woman.