Deborah survived her thirtieth birthday free of cancer. In 1981, she married James Pullum, who later became a preacher.
The Lacks family still suffered from poverty. Zakariyya was released from prison, but still struggled to hold down a job and was often homeless. He blamed Day for Henrietta’s death and the violence he suffered at Ethel’s hands. Sonny got most of his income from running a food stamp ring. Alfred Jr. got in continual trouble with the law, even going AWOL from the Marines. The most money they saw came from a class action lawsuit against a boiler manufacturer who allowed Bethlehem Steel workers to be exposed to asbestos.
In 1985, science writer Michael Gold released a book about HeLa contamination. When Deborah looked through it, she saw details of Henrietta’s medical record that the family had never seen. Skloot later spoke to Gold, but he couldn’t remember how he’d gotten Henrietta’s records, and Jones and McKusick both deny giving them to him. Gold did claim to make a small effort to contact the family, but admitted that his focus was on the science and saw Henrietta’s personal information as auxiliary details to give the piece character.
In 1984, a German virologist discovered a new strain of the human papilloma virus (HPV), which causes cervical cancer. He also discovered that this new strain of HPV caused Henrietta’s cancer.
The Lacks family had their own theories as to why Henrietta’s cancer was so terrible. Her sister Gladys believed it was divine punishment. Cootie suggested disease-causing spirits. Sadie wondered whether something alien got inside of her.
In the early nineties, two scientists began to argue that HeLa was no longer human because it had mutated too far from its original state. Other scientists argued that this was merely a result of scientists preferring not to think too hard about HeLa cells being human cells.