ATLANTA - Most cancer patients don't want advice when they share their diagnosis with friends and family.

"What they don’t need to hear is what you’ve heard works best for their type of cancer," according to Angela and Dennis Buttimer, owners of the Atlanta Center for Mindfulness & Well-Being and certified health and life coaches at Chapman Cancer Wellness. "What works for one person does not necessarily work for another."

The Buttimers, who are wellness experts who specialize in integrative medicine, suggest these phases instead:

  1. "I really empathize with you." Connecting with empathy causes people to feel understood, said the Buttimers.
  2. "I’m sorry this has happened, and I’m here for you."
  3. "Is there anything I can do to help you?" Offering a meal, a ride somewhere, babysitting or to take care of chores are examples of what you can do to help, the Buttimers added.
  4. "I want to encourage you as you move through this challenging time."
  5. "If you would like to talk, I’ll be happy to listen." Listening is a great gift to patients, the Buttimers explained.

"They need their own sense of self-efficacy, breathing room, and respect for their personal choices," the Buttimers said.

And here are some things to avoid when talking about a cancer diagnosis:

  • Refrain from sharing horror stories about their chosen treatment or alternatives.
  • Don't probe for details or ask invasive questions.
  • Don't ask how long they have
  • Don't tell them you know how they feel.

The Buttimers, who co-authored CALM: Choosing to Live Mindfully, said you can best support a person who's dealing with cancer by listening and having a caring presence.

"When family or friends learn a loved one has been diagnosed with cancer, they want to help. But they come to the conversation with their own grief and fear," the Buttimers said. "It’s good to slow down and prepare before you talk. What you are most trying to convey is 'I care about you.' Sometimes, those four simple words are enough."

Angela Buttimer, MS, RYT, LPC, CHC and Dennis Buttimer, MEd, RYT, CEAP, CHC are professional speakers who offer coaching, counseling, workshops, and retreats to individuals and organizations.