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The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

by Rebecca Skloot
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What symptoms did Henrietta Lacks have before she went to the doctor for testing?

Henrietta Lacks did not have any symptoms that would lead her to believe that there was a problem with her womb. She had no symptoms of cervical cancer until after she went to the doctor for testing.

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In 1951, shortly after the birth of her daughter Deborah, Henrietta Lacks noticed something wrong with her womb--a sensation which she described as a "knot" inside of her. She did not see a doctor at that time and found out shortly thereafter that she was pregnant once again, this time...

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In 1951, shortly after the birth of her daughter Deborah, Henrietta Lacks noticed something wrong with her womb--a sensation which she described as a "knot" inside of her. She did not see a doctor at that time and found out shortly thereafter that she was pregnant once again, this time with her fifth child. Although her friends suggested that this must be the explanation for the "knot," Henrietta did not feel this was true. 

After the birth of Joe, her fifth child, Henrietta experienced vaginal bleeding outside of her menstrual cycle. While taking a bath, she found a hard lump to the left of the opening of her womb. This discovery finally prompted her to visit a gynecological clinic at Johns Hopkins hospital, at which point the source of all these symptoms was discovered: a cervical tumor. 

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Before going to Dr. Howard Jones at Johns Hopkins for testing, Henrietta Lacks told only her closest family members about the symptoms she experienced. She told her cousins Margaret and Sadie that she had a knot in her stomach. “I got a knot," she said, “It hurt somethin awful--when that man want to get with me, Sweet Jesus, but them some pains.” At first Henrietta thought the symptoms were caused by the “bad blood” her husband sometimes brought home after visiting prostitutes. Then she thought it was because of her pregnancy, but when she found blood in her urine and began spotting “outside her time of the month,” she finally told her husband, and insisted he take her to the doctor. When her local doctor’s syphilis test proved negative, he suggested she go to Johns Hopkins gynecological clinic. Three months after her initial visit, Dr. Jones discovered that Henrietta Lacks had a “full-fledge tumor” that, he notes, was either ignored by previous doctors or had grown at “an alarmingly fast rate.”

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