Emily McDowell

Sometimes "get well" won't cut it.

L.A.-based designer Emily McDowell has created a line of "empathy cards" that perfectly capture how difficult it can be to support friends or loved ones suffering from a serious illness.

McDowell knows about this challenge first-hand. When she was 24 years old, the designer was diagnosed with Stage 3 Hodgkin’s lymphoma and went through nine months of chemo and radiation. She's now 38 years old and cancer free.

"I believe we need some better, more authentic ways to communicate about sickness and suffering," she explains on her blog this week. (Hallmark, please take notes.)

"Sympathy cards can make people feel like you think they’re already dead," she says. "A 'fuck cancer' card is a nice sentiment, but when I had cancer, it never really made me feel better. And I never personally connected with jokes about being bald or getting a free boob job, which is what most 'cancer cards' focus on."


Which is why McDowell's creations are called empathy cards instead—they come from a truly knowing and shared perspective. It's no surprise the designs have begun to go viral.

McDowell says she had the idea cooking for some time, based on her own interactions (or lack thereof) with friends and family while she was sick.


"The most difficult part of my illness wasn’t losing my hair, or being erroneously called 'sir' by Starbucks baristas, or sickness from chemo," she says. "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."

Check out more of her brilliant cards below. (And if you think you recognize the lettering, it's probably because her "awkward dating" cards went viral during Valentine's Day 2013. Seriously, can we be friends already?)



See more designs on McDowell's website.

Taryn Hillin is Fusion's love and sex writer, with a large focus on the science of relationships. She also loves dogs, Bourbon barrel-aged beers and popcorn — not necessarily in that order.