These Empathy Cards Say What Cancer Patients Actually Want to Hear


Emily McDowell is a designer based in Los Angeles best known for her greeting cards and prints that feature humorously honest quips about the intricacies of everyday life.

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From the Emily McDowell Illustration Facebook page.

When she was 24 years old, McDowell was diagnosed with Stage 3 Hodgkin lymphoma. She went through nine months of chemotherapy and radiation before going into remission, Slate reported. For McDowell, now 38 and cancer-free, the most difficult aspect of living with cancer was feeling isolated from friends and family who pulled away or said exactly the wrong thing because they didn’t know how to react to her diagnosis. So, she put her trademark honesty to work and created a new series of Empathy Cards, emotionally direct cards designed to give people who are facing a serious diagnosis.

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Each of the 11 cards in the series features something McDowell wishes someone had said to her when she had cancer. “I created this collection of empathy cards for serious illness because I believe we need some better, more authentic ways to communicate about sickness and suffering,” McDowell wrote on her website.

McDowell’s cards are humorous, sincere and insightful. Some poke fun of the misguided ways people try to help. Others acknowledge the difficulty in finding the right words.

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Every card conveys what anyone facing a serious illness needs: boundless love, support and honesty.

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The cards were posted on McDowell’s online store on May 4, and they’re already strongly resonating with people. In just over two days, the Emily McDowell studio has received more than 4,000 online orders, and their warehouse staff has had to double in size, Sara Vandervoort, Director of Communications and Marketing, told The Mighty. The cards are currently available online and will be released wholesale at the National Stationery Show in New York on May 17.

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“My goal is to help people connect with each other through truth and insight, which is one of the founding principles of this brand,” McDowell wrote on her website. “I want the recipients of these cards to feel seen, understood and loved.”

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McDowell wants to share these cards with the world as quickly as she can, so she’s posing a special offer to everyone who helps her spread the word. Anyone who posts pictures of the cards on Instagram, Pinterest or Twitter with the hashtags #empathycards or #emilymcdowell will be entered to win a $100 gift card to the studio’s online shop. McDowell will select two winners on May 11.

All photos republished with permission from Emily McDowell Studio.

To learn Emily McDowell’s Empathy Cards and her other projects, visit her website and Facebook page.

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