Henrietta Lacks and the Power of Pink

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You may not be familiar with the story of Henrietta Lacks.

Now, hear it firsthand at this year's Powerfully Pink Luncheon, where her family members share Henrietta's impact in the medical field while unearthing social injustices.

The Powerfully Pink Luncheon—hosted by Komen Michigan, Mercy Health and Greater Grand Rapids NAACP—recognizes breast cancer advocates and survivors. The event includes free screenings of the movie The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks and the new Henrietta Lacks Education Forum, both with a goal of teaching the importance of self-advocacy and starting community conversations. Two members of Henrietta Lacks' family will speak on her vast impact and be there for a book signing, which is open to the public.

In 1951, Henrietta Lacks was diagnosed with late-stage cervical cancer, leading to her death within the year. Henrietta lives on to this day, as her cells—called the HeLa line—became the first human cells to replicate in laboratory conditions. Her cells changed the world of medicine forever, helping unlock the first polio vaccine and providing the foundation for groundbreaking research related to cancer, AIDS, radiation, gene mapping and more.

These discoveries, however, were made without her knowledge or the consent of her family. This powerful story reveals the inequalities in our healthcare system that persist to this day, particularly for minorities and people of color.

"Mercy Health is honored to present the Henrietta Lacks Educational Forum to our community," said Bill Manns, president of Mercy Health Saint Mary's. "We invite you to learn about Mrs. Lacks' story, the experience her family endured, and the profound ways it has affected and shaped modern medicine and the way we treat patients."

Komen Michigan Executive Director Erica Bills was inspired after reading the story and was determined to share it with the breast cancer community.

"I was struck by the relevance of the barriers to quality and equitable healthcare Henrietta faced, when compared to today's healthcare standards. We have seen progress, but we have work to do, and that work starts with open and honest conversations about our current healthcare environment; it starts with education," said Erica. "These barriers are conversations that we must have with our families and our children. We cannot pretend these inequities do not exist and that they are not impacting our collective health."

Erica added that the shared goal is to allow Henrietta's resilience to shine a light on the mission to reduce breast cancer deaths in Michigan by breaking down healthcare barriers and stressing the importance of early detection by "knowing your normal."

Eliminating health disparities and lowering barriers to accessing quality care are themes explored through the story of Henrietta Lacks, whose experiences teach us important lessons about self-advocacy and understanding what care options are available.

Learn more and join the Powerfully Pink Luncheon:
Thursday, December 6, 2019
Celebration Cinema North
Grand Rapids, Michigan

Written by Sarah Suydam, Staff Writer for West Michigan Woman.

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