When you find out that a coworker, friend, or family member is going through treatment for a potentially fatal illness, such as cancer, figuring out what to say isn’t always easy. And if you take a trip to the greeting card aisle, the often saccharine messages (and do you get a sympathy card or a get-well-soon card?) can come off as insensitive or superficial.
That’s where Empathy Cards, a new series of greeting cards from 38-year-old Emily McDowell, a Los Angeles–based writer and designer, come in. McDowell knows firsthand what someone who is ill needs to hear. When she was 24, she was diagnosed with Stage 3 Hodgkin’s lymphoma and was successfully treated with chemotherapy and radiation.
“The most difficult part of my illness wasn’t losing my hair, or being erroneously called ‘sir’ by Starbucks baristas, or sickness from chemo,” McDowell wrote in a blog post about the cards. “It was the loneliness and isolation I felt when many of my close friends and family members disappeared because they didn’t know what to say, or said the absolute wrong thing without realizing it.”
McDowell launched Emily McDowell Studio in 2013, and the brand produces reusable grocery store bags, coffee mugs, and beautifully designed cards for a variety of occasions. The Empathy Cards aim to keep you from putting your foot in your mouth: No, you don’t want to tell a cancer patient who has spent the past few days vomiting due to chemotherapy that he or she will learn so much from being sick—or regale him or her with tales of “our cousin who died from that same illness.”
Click through to see McDowell’s cards and learn more about the series.