I’d love to help but…the difference between wanting to be helpful and being helpful

By on Apr 8, 2018 in Blog Posts, Cancer | 6 comments

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“The blood bank is near empty. It always is at this time of year, so we aren’t sure if they will deliver all the units we’ve ordered.” This was said to me back in January 2017. Josh had just been admitted into hospital for a cancer related haemorrhage. He needed 11 units of blood to stabilise him.

Josh's first stay in ICU, he needed eleven unit of blood.

Even as I typed Facebook posts and Whattsapp messages asking people to make blood donations, my scalp crawled. I typed and retyped the text, looking for the right words. I could feel my heart beat thundering through my chest and the super-charged swish of blood in my ears.

It wasn’t really the first time in my life that I ever needed help but it was the first time I had to just put it out there and call on my broader network asking for a favour. Let me explain. Knowing that I was slightly ahead in the favours granted (vs. favours taken) kept me secure my whole life. And then, in one afternoon of fevered typing, I owed more favours that I could have ever imagined. I didn’t just owe people I knew, I owed a group of Wit’s medical students who I’d never met, I owed the group of people who contribute to the same community policing service, I owed parents and teachers at Joshua’s school. There are many, many people who I don’t even know about who are owed.

I hated it.

Josh got the blood he needed.


For every donation, though, there were a ton of people who wanted to help but couldn’t. I understood. At the time my own stress levels meant that I couldn’t donate either. AND every message felt like a blow to my gut.

Last week, still with a pounding heart, I asked for help again. I asked if people could help me with a personal project to refill the blood bank with the units that Josh took when he was ill. It’s a debt I want to repay. One that Josh, in different circumstances, would have repaid himself.

And again people all over the world opened up their veins and helped. AND  people responded with “I’d like to help but...”. It still feels like blows to my gut.

Then I got a note from Gilly – she lives in Italy and can’t donate blood because of some business of living in a Mad Cow disease infested nation in the 80’s. She’s lined up Italian friends to donate blood and platelets on her behalf.

Geoff is my sister’s first boyfriend. He can’t donate but he has a wife and kids who can.

Tayla just added a lovely pic of Josh and shared the request to her Facebook friends.

Gilly and Geoff and Tayla and all the others found a different way to be useful when they couldn’t help directly. They didn’t stop with “I’d love to help but….”.

I’ve been an “I’d love to help” kind of girl more times than I can count. More than I’d like. I’ve used that phrase to cover many things; from I don’t care about your petition (sorry Vegan friends, that would be you) to I truly can’t help but I also haven’t dedicated any thought to what else I could do. I’m guessing that every time I do, there is someone out there who might be feeling the thump of my words in their gut.

I don’t yet know what I’m going to do instead but I know it’s the difference between wanting to be helpful and being helpful.


  1. Diego

    9th April 2018

    Post a Reply

    I would love to help and I’m sure my wife would too. How do we go about donating?


  2. Marinda

    9th April 2018

    Post a Reply

    Good morning Penny, I just love your writing and being able to drill down to the heart of the issue.
    Keep up the good work!

  3. Frieda Marie

    9th April 2018

    Post a Reply

    Love love love the message. An old colleague would often use the expression “that’s not helpful”. At first I was offended, and then I came to understand the provocation. Its the difference between engaged and disengaged, between active and sedentary, and I love your honest provocations Pen. Please keep doing this.

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