The African American Contribution To The World's Medical Field

The African American Contribution To The World's Medical Field

Rebecca Skloot wrote a biography on the life of Henrietta Lacks, also known as HeLa.
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Right now I'm reading the Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot, and it's taking me longer than usual to finish this book. I'm not struggling because it's almost 400 pages long, but because of its content.

The amount of suffering African Americans have had to endure since we came to America is not new to anyone. It's something that the Black community continues to face on a day to day basis whether it be racial profiling one day or dealing with microaggressions the next.

Nonetheless, the struggles I face now are minimal compared to what my ancestors experienced.

Skloot goes into extreme detail about Henrietta Lack's life before, during, and after her cells (HeLa) were discovered by scientists in 1951. The Lacks family was done a great injustice when scientists took her cells under false pretenses and passed them around the globe in the name of science without the consent of her family.

It was the norm for African American men and women to be used as involuntary research personnel during and before the 20th century. Apart from Henrietta Lacks, the first instance that comes to mind is the Tuskegee Syphilis Study.

The Public Health Service of 1932 used 600 Black men to observe the progression of syphilis without adequately supplying them with correct information. 399 men had the disease and 201 did not, but those who had it were denied penicillin which was used to treat the disease at the time.

Another instance involves Dr. Chester M. Southam, a virologist, who injected his patients with Henrietta Lack's cells to verify whether or not cancer was transmittable or if the immune system could defend against it. He conducted his research on incarcerated people, cancer patients and healthy individuals.

What I thought was going to be an insightful account of Henrietta Lack's life and her contribution to the world, it turned out to be much more than that.

The largest contributor of them all, John Hopkins Hospital, which is ranked third in the nation, was a huge part in terrors the Black community faced during the 20th century. It was even quoted by a woman in the novel that "you'd be surprised how many people disappeared in East Baltimore when I was a girl. I'm telling you, I lived there in the fifties when they got Henrietta, and we weren't allowed to go anywhere near Hopkins. When it got dark and we were young, we had to be on the steps, or Hopkins might get us."

Skloot uncovered a lot of truths about what it took for the advancement of medicine in America. Much of it being at the expense of African Americans who unwillingly gave their bodies to white scientists who believed that was what their patients owed them.

Cover Image Credit: Wikimedia

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An Open Letter From The Plus-Size Girl

It's OK not to be perfect. Life is more fun that way.

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To whoever is reading this,

My entire life has been a juggling match between my weight and the world. Since I was a young girl every single doctor my family took me to, told me I needed to lose weight. The searing pain of those words still stabs me in the side to this day. I have walked past stores like Hollister and American Eagle since I was 13.

Being plus-size means watching girls the same age as you or older walk into a store that sells the cutest, in style clothing and you having to walk into a store that sells clothes that are very out of style for a young girl. Being plus-size means being picked last in gym class, even if you love sports.

Being plus-size means feeling like you have to suck it in in pictures so you don't look as big next to your friends. Being plus-size means constantly thinking people are staring at you, even if they aren't.

The number on the scale haunts me. Every single time I think about the number I cringe.

Can I just say how going shopping is an absolute nightmare? If you haven't noticed, in almost every store (that even has plus sizes to begin with) plus-size clothing is closed off and secluded from the rest of the store. For example, Forever 21, There are walls around every side of the plus "department."

Macy's plus department is in the basement, all the way in the back corner. We get it that we are not what society wants us to look like but throwing us in a corner isn't going to change the statistics in America today. That being that 67% of American women are plus-size.

My life is a double-digit number being carved into my jiggly arms and thunder thighs. It is me constantly wanting to dress cute but turning to running shorts and a gigantic sweatshirt instead so that people don't judge me on my size.

It is time that the American society stops making plus size look like a curse. It will never be a curse. If every person was the same size, what would be the point of uniqueness? I will never despise who I am because while I was growing up multiple people told me that I needed to be a size 6 in order for a guy to fall in love with me. I will never hate myself for getting dressed up and being confident.

To all the girls reading this who may be plus-size,

It's OK! You're beautiful and lovable. If you want to buy that crop top, buy it. Life is too short to hide behind a baggy T-shirt. We are just as gorgeous as the girls that we envy. Be the one to change the opinion of the world. Fat rolls don't need to be embarrassing. Your stretch marks are beautiful. Don't ever let the world tell you not to eat that cheeseburger either.

In the end, this earthly life is temporary. We are on this earth for a blink of an eye. Don't let anything stand in your way. Wear the bikini, the crop top, and the short shorts. Post the sassy selfie you've had on your phone for 6 months and you won't post because you have a double chin or your head looks "too big." Who cares. BE YOU and love yourself while you're at it.

I'll start.

Cover Image Credit: Victoria Hockmeyer

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It's National Eosinophil Awareness Week And More People Should Be Talking About It

It's time to raise awareness about eosinophil-associated diseases and support those, including myself, who are affected.

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For anyone who is unaware, May 19 to May 25 is considered National Eosinophil Awareness Week as recognized by the American Partnership for Eosinophilic Disorders (Apfed) since 2007. The purpose of this week is to raise awareness and help educate individuals on the various eosinophil-associated diseases. Despite its existence being virtually unknown to many people, this week has become very significant in my life and I think more people should be having conversations about it.

If you had asked me about eosinophil-associated diseases two years ago, I wouldn't have been able to say a single thing besides maybe defining an eosinophil the way I learned to in my AP Biology class senior year of high school. But as of a few months ago, it has officially been one year since I was diagnosed with an eosinophil-associated disease — something I never imagined would happen in my life. While I won't share too much of my own experience because it's honestly quite personal and still a little sensitive to discuss, it's safe to say that eosinophils completely changed my life.

I was fracturing bones like it was my job — I think I had upwards of nine stress fractures in my legs and feet in a year and a half time period. I had to stop playing sports my senior year of high school and couldn't run at all. I was nauseous 24/7. I was rapidly losing weight to the point where I had lost close to 35 pounds and none of my clothes fit me. I couldn't swallow anything, including water. Eating was painful. I had no appetite.

I was sick and in pain ALL the time to the point where I would get emotional or even cry.

I missed school days, tests, exams, social events, and eventually had to quit my job for an entire summer because even getting out of bed was hard for me. Ultimately, even the decision about the college that I chose to attend was partially based on my health and the doctors I would need to visit frequently.

But the most significant thing was that I was experiencing severe depression and anxiety and was honestly just straight-up scared. Think about it: I was experiencing a wide range of life-altering symptoms yet no one could figure out why and even when they did, there was no cure and only limited options for treatment. Unfortunately, this is the reality for many patients and their families. The process of diagnosing an eosinophil-associated disease can take years and require pretty much every medical test you can even think of because these diseases are all classified as rare diseases.

I was experiencing symptoms for a year and the journey to an accurate diagnosis took about a year after that. The journey itself was not easy, as it involved numerous doctors and countless medical tests to eliminate other potential diagnoses like cancers, parasites or even celiac. Since then, I have been involved with treatment for a little over a year. For me, treatment involved several medications and steps, including gaining the weight I had lost.

But the main piece was cutting pretty much everything out of my diet, meaning no gluten, dairy, soy, eggs, seafood, or nuts. Gradually over time this treatment involves reintroducing the foods individually (each for a three-month period) to see what can be tolerated or which foods make my eosinophils act abnormally and then restricting my diet accordingly.

Since starting treatment my life has been gradually changing in a positive manner, which is something I couldn't have imagined when I initially became ill. Yes, I will still be sick for the rest of my life and experience the chronic waxing and waning of this disease, but hopefully years of experience and knowledge will make me better equipped to handle it. One day there may even be a cure. But until then I will continue to raise awareness and participate in National Eosinophil Awareness Week in solidarity with the few who are also sharing in my experience living with an eosinophil-associated disease.

While I wrote this article with the intention of participating in Eosinophil Awareness Week by raising awareness and educating (to some extent), it was about more than that. I wanted to give you a synopsis of my story and the challenges I face to make this week more understandable and more real. This was because I know that eosinophil is not only challenging to say (even I struggle) but also challenging to conceptualize.

If you're interested in learning more or you're still confused, I recommend doing some quick reading on Apfed's website because they are extremely helpful in the way they simplify the complex information.

If you would like to see what you can do during National Eosinophil Awareness Week, you can also click here to visit Apfed's day-by-day guide for the week, which included some fact sheets, information about wearing magenta to support the cause, and other information about individual participation.

Editor's note: The views expressed in this article are not intended to replace professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

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