Deborah was very young when her mother, Henrietta Lacks, died. She and her siblings were raised by a cousin of her mother, who abused them physically and mentally. After Deborah's older brother, Lawrence, returned from the army and married, he and his wife took the younger kids in, but Deborah was sexually abused by her cousin's husband for years. In sum, Deborah had a very hard childhood. She had not known for sure what had even happened to her mother, as death and illness were not discussed openly. At sixteen she became pregnant, but with the help of Lawrence and his wife Bobette, she did graduate from high school. One of her sisters died at a young age. Her brother Joe killed a man and went to prison. Deborah married, but her husband beat her; she eventually left him (after considering murdering him) and raised her children on her own.
During all this, the Lacks children had no idea that their mother's cells had continued to "live", and that a part of their mother not only was still around, but had been used in very important research. The family had never been notified about this, which was perfectly legal at the time of Henrietta's death in the early 1950s. They all, Deborah in particular, had a very hard time dealing with the information. They were religious people, and questioned whether their mother was really dead, if parts of her still lived. They did not understand what form the cells were in--were they human shaped? They were also angry that such things had been done with parts of their mother, without their knowledge. They could not understand why, if their mother's cells had helped science, they got no benefit--even after allowing their own blood to be drawn to help in research, they received no information about their own health risks.
All of these things affected Deborah's mental and emotional state. Information that should have been private appeared in the media. It seemed that everyone else knew more about her mother's death than she did. She was taken in by a con man who promised to find information for her. Eventually, Rebecca Sloot helped bring Deborah some peace.