Chapter 31 Summary

2000-2001

Soon after her first long visit with Rebecca, Deborah was advised by a stranger, a black man, who said she should not talk to a white reporter about Henrietta. He said that only a black person could be trusted to tell the story properly. He nearly convinced Deborah, but soon she decided that he was wrong:

Racism! Racism! …We all black and white and everything else—this isn’t a race thing. There’s two sides to the story, and that’s what we want to bring out…It’s not about punish the doctors or slander the hospital. I don’t want that.

Deborah remained skittish, but she kept granting Rebecca interviews. In exchange, Rebecca promised full disclosure on anything she found about Henrietta Lacks. She sent Deborah every scrap of information she found, along with clear labels explaining what it all meant and whether it was fact or fiction. She also promised to set up a scholarship fund for Henreitta's descendants if the book ever sold.

A friendship soon blossomed between Deborah and Rebecca. Rebecca invited Deborah along on research trips and helped her to set up a computer with Internet access at home. As Deborah began to hunt for information about Henrietta herself, she often called Rebecca in the middle of the night, panicked about articles she found. She could not sleep and so she began taking Ambien, a sleeping pill, which made her fuzzy-headed. Her erratic behavior scared her grandson, who insisted on moving into her house to watch over her.

Eventually Deborah began to learn more about Henrietta’s cells, and the panicked nighttime phone calls ceased. Deborah filled notebooks with information on cells, cancer, legal terms, and so on. She researched the problematic history of medical testing around the world, and she complained to Rebecca when she found insulting references to Henrietta Lacks in the media.

One day, Deborah received a call from a doctor asking her to speak at a large medical conference about HeLa. At first, Deborah was afraid that this was just another attempt to exploit or ridicule her, but Rebecca did some research on her behalf and found that it was a legitimate conference. Deborah agreed to go.

It was important to Deborah to learn as much as possible before appearing at the conference, so she asked Rebecca to take her to visit Cristoph Lengauer’s lab at Johns Hopkins to see the HeLa cells. Moments after Deborah made this decision, her son Albert was arrested for a robbery spree. To Rebecca's surprise, Deborah did not fall apart emotionally. Instead she held firm to her decision to continue her research on her mother.