We have Henrietta Lacks to thank for modern medicine. After she died of cervical cancer at the young age of 31, her cells were used for groundbreaking medical research.

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While Lacks lives on through her cells, those who knew and admire her feel her presence everywhere. 

Sydney Scott
Mar, 22, 2017

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks is posied to premiere on HBO next month. And, ESSENCE is focusing on the story of Lacks and her immortal cells in our April issue.

The film's stars, Oprah Winfrey and Renée Elise Goldsberry, appear on the cover of the latest issue and inside discuss the nearly forgotten story of the woman who paved the way for numerous medical breakthroughs. 

Lacks, whose cells were used after her death to further medical research and discoveries, passed away in 1951 due to cervical cancer, but those who know and admire her believe her spirit lives on.

According to Rebecca Skloot, who wrote the novel the HBO film is adapted from, Lacks' children believe that her cells reinforce the idea that she's still with them. "Deborah believed Henrietta's spirit lived on in her cells, controlling the life of anyone who crossed its path," she wrote. 

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The film's director, George C. Wolfe told ESSENCE, "Cells contain DNA; the DNA is what makes a person a person. Henrietta is present, scientifically, in every single cell around the world. In that cell is her DNA. Even scientifically, the family is not wrong. She's alive."

Winfrey, however, looks at it from a more spiritual perspective. "Many times we would be on set, and something would happen: It would start raining when we needed the rain or it stopped raining when we didn't need it," she told us, " 'Oh, there's Henrietta. There's no question,' I would say. She's all up in this."

"I will tell you that I know that all things are connected. I know that is true and that's just not some mumbo jumbo spiritual rhetoric. I know that they are. I know that the force that is God is also part of every living thing and everything that has also lived. I feel within me and have always felt; from the time I was reciting Sojourner and Margaret Walker and Fannie Lou Hamer, I always felt the spirit of those women abiding in me. The same is true for Henrietta Lacks."