Like most young Lackses, Day didn’t finish school: he stopped in the fourth grade because the family needed him to work the fields. 

This description of Day in Chapter 2 highlights one of the many disadvantages Day has in navigating the aftermath of Henrietta’s cancer. Because of the family’s poverty, it becomes more important for him to earn money than to get an education. The result has left him ill-equipped to understand anything that happened to Henrietta, making her death and the fame of her cells even more confusing and frightening.

“Well, so let my old lady cells talk to you and leave me alone,” he snapped. “I had enough ’a you people.”

Skloot receives this response from Day in Chapter 6, when she first tries to contact members of the Lacks family. Day’s anger here is palpable. Skloot is not the first journalist, scientist, or con who has attempted to talk to Day about Henrietta’s cells, and in most cases it has led to more pain, confusion, and betrayal. Also notable here is that to Day these are his wife’s cells, not HeLa cells. They are inextricably tied to his wife’s death, a loss he cannot fully move on from because of the continued prodding by science and journalism alike.

Gangrene was spreading from Day’s toes to his knee; his doctor said his toes needed amputating, but Day refused. He said he didn’t want doctors cutting on him like they did Henrietta.

This haunting quotation comes from Chapter 21 when Skloot first meets Day in person. Henrietta’s loss and subsequent fame has hurt Day far more than just emotionally. Because of the lack of transparency, consent, and communication around the biopsy of Henrietta’s cells, Day refuses to get help for very serious medical conditions, leading him to suffer far more than necessary. HeLa cells may have brought a legacy of improved medical treatments to the world, but they left Day even more vulnerable to illness.

When Henrietta died, Day had agreed to let her doctors do an autopsy because they’d told him it might help his children someday.

This quotation appears in Chapter 23, when Victor McKusick requests to draw blood from Henrietta’s family members. Day mistakenly believes this is a cancer examination. We learn earlier that Day is initially reluctant to allow for an autopsy and only changes his mind because of his children. In Day’s understanding, this blood draw will add to knowledge gained from Henrietta’s autopsy to protect his children from cancer. Despite Day’s flaws as a parent, he does care deeply about his children and wants the best for them.