The day after meeting with Zakariyya, Deborah receives a mysterious call telling her not to trust any white people asking about Henrietta. Panicked, she tells Rebecca that they can’t speak anymore, but then quickly changes her mind. The two women continue interacting like this for the next year, visiting and talking on the phone for hours, although Deborah still doesn’t show Rebecca the medical records. She is continually suspicious that Rebecca is getting money to write the book, but each time, Rebecca promises to use the book’s profits to set up a scholarship fund for Henrietta’s descendants.
The question of money is a deeply charged one for Deborah. Believing that the white medical establishment has cheated her, she finds it difficult to believe that Rebecca isn’t out to make a profit as well. The fact that Skloot is able to earn back Deborah’s trust, though, is a tribute to her skills as a reporter and her integrity as a person (at least as she portrays herself).
In an effort to gain Deborah’s trust, Rebecca begins sending Deborah every article she can find about Henrietta. Deborah begins to feel maternal towards Rebecca, and even dresses in “reporter clothes” when they go on trips together in order to match Rebecca. Eventually Deborah lets Rebecca visit her house. Rebecca shows Deborah how to surf the internet, and Deborah stays up late every night Googling her mother after taking Ambien.
The relationship between the two women tentatively grows stronger, based in honesty and openness. For the first time Deborah has someone who will not only tell her the truth about her mother, but also explain those truths to her; a deeply meaningful development in the life of this too-often victimized woman.
Rebecca recounts the many different things that “HeLa” denotes, including a Marvel comic book character who is “a seven-foot-tall, half-black, half-white goddess.” Deborah believes that the character must be based on her mother.
This is a significant moment both within the narrative and for Deborah. Rather than seeing Henrietta as a victim or a patient, Deborah instead gets to view her as an all-powerful goddess.
Rebecca lists Deborah’s various medical problems, for which she takes around fourteen pills a day. She has many insurance problems, and has been diagnosed with a variety of physical and mental issues. Deborah is upset that she has to pay “for drugs my mother cells probably helped make.”
Deborah’s health problems come directly from her life of poverty—and, ironically enough, that same life now does not allow her to pay for her medication. Deborah is indeed right to feel cheated by the medical establishment that her mother helped evolve.
Deborah begins using the internet to research experiments done without patients’ consent. One day the president of the National Foundation for Cancer Research, Franklin Salisbury Jr., calls Deborah to ask if she will accept a plaque in Henrietta’s honor. Deborah is “ecstatic,” but paranoid about the dangers her appearance may bring. She tells Rebecca that she wants to see her mother’s cells before speaking. Only moments later, Deborah finds out that her son Alfred Jr. has been arrested for holding up five liquor stores.
Deborah’s life is one of constant ups and downs. Although she sees danger around every corner, her paranoia is often justified, as when she discovers that her son has been arrested for armed robbery. Given the toughness of Deborah’s life, it makes sense that she should be fearful and suspicious—this is the only way that she has learned to survive.