The math behind ‘Can I help?’

After hearing that a dental hygiene colleague and close friend has been diagnosed with breast cancer yet again and will be unable to work for months—and will thus need financial help—Anne Guignon contemplates the “math” of helping others. It may be easier to work into your own life than you may assume.

May 1st, 2018
Guignon Grey
When your colleague can’t pay her light bill, how will you help?

Anne Nugent Guignon, RDH, MPH

Today, my world got slammed. As I was perusing Facebook, a request for support from a friend popped up. Sadly, a dental hygiene colleague is facing breast cancer once again. This time it is Stage IV. Her life, like so many others, has had twists and turns. She has been her own sole support for the last few years. It’s hard to fathom how she is coping with the recurrence of a devastating condition. According to the information I gleaned, she is facing the prospect of no income for most of a year.

This is a woman who has breathed dental hygiene day in and day out for years. It is her life’s work, and her chemotherapy regimen is now so vigorous that she can’t work. While family and friends are trying to care for her, she estimates that she will need financial help for eight months. Knowing her personally, I can see her quirky little smile and twinkle in her eyes, saying, “Anne, you know I can and will beat this.” My response: “Yes, I know you will, but in the meantime, how are you going to pay your light bill?”

This situation got me to thinking. How do you quantify your relationship with another human being? How do you reach out a make a difference? How do you help pay the light bill or how do you determine what you can and will do to ease the burdens others are facing? Now, before you turn the page to the next article, I have come up with a plan. Every one of us will have to decide what we are able to do when a loved one, colleague, patient, or friend needs help. The answer is based on math. Oh, I can hear your collective groans already, but bear with me.

I met this remarkable woman in August 2002. She was amazingly smart and she never once hesitated to challenge me to consider ideas that had never crossed my brain. She single-handedly was responsible for securing an invitation to speak at her association’s 2003 annual meeting, which was in paradise. She also invited me to spend five days in her home, again in paradise, after another meeting. Through the years, we’ve kept in touch and we’ve always supported each other’s dreams. On more than one occasion, she has been an integral part of making sure I was hired as a speaker.

Here’s the math. She’s been part of my life for close to 16 years. Sixteen times 365 days in a year is a lot of support—5,840 support “points” to be exact. Our lives are different, and I’m not having to deal with what she faces today or tomorrow, but it is easy to imagine that figuring out how to pay the light bill is a high priority when she can’t earn a clinical income. And she needs my unconditional support. While I don’t have an endless stream of money, I know that my financial support will make life a bit easier for her right now.

It all comes down to the math. My colleague and friend faces the fight of her life. I figured out a number that works in my head and my budget.

What are you going to do to make a difference in someone else’s life? Caring is what makes people’s lives better. It does not have to be about money. Are you willing to commit 365 minutes to making meals for at a homeless shelter? Can you spare 36.5 minutes a week to talk to an elderly person at church or visit an older person at a local nursing facility? Is it possible to forego a fancy coffee for two or three weeks and funnel the money into purchasing three months of feminine hygiene products for 3.65 women at transition center? Can you volunteer 3.65 hours to provide sealants or do oral cancer screenings in conjunction with your local association?

What if all you have to give is a 3.65 second smile to the mom in the grocery store whose kid is having a meltdown—can you manage that? Can you find the grace to smile (again) for 3.65 nanoseconds when your most challenging patient must do that “annoying thing” one more time? Are you willing to brush off what sounds like a snarky comment from a coworker for the 365 millionth time? Are you willing to thank 3.65 patients tomorrow for coming, and really mean it? Are you willing to drive 3.65, or even 36.5, more miles to work at a facility where patients really need your services for 3.65% less pay per day?

It all comes down to the math. My colleague and friend faces the fight of her life. I figured out a number that works in my head and my budget. While I can’t be there for her physically, it is in my power to help her see the light at the end of this tunnel. I only hope my contribution makes her days better.

Now I challenge you to figure out how to make the math work for you in your life.

Giving back, or paying it forward, is the key to living gracefully and abundantly on this planet. It’s not about the dollars, the time, or the notoriety. It’s about treating other human beings with dignity. We all can give more.


ANNE NUGENT GUIGNON,RDH, MPH, CSP, provides popular programs, including topics on biofilms, power driven scaling, ergonomics, hypersensitivity, and remineralization. Recipient of the 2004 Mentor of the Year Award and the 2009 ADHA Irene Newman Award, Anne has practiced clinical dental hygiene in Houston since 1971, and can be contacted at anne@anneguignon.com.

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