Emily McDowell was diagnosed with Stage 3 Hodgkin’s lymphoma when she was only 24 years of age.
“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 writes on her website. “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.”
Emily had to undergo over nine months of chemo therapy and radiation treatment before finally going into remission. Now 38-years-old, the Los Angeles–based designer (who has been cancer-free ever since… Woo Hoo!), has used her experience as a survivor as inspiration to create a series of Empathy Cards that say the things she wished her friends and family would’ve said to her when she was sick.
Emily hopes that the Empathy Cards provide “better, more authentic ways to communicate about sickness and suffering” between patients, friends and loved ones suffering from cancer, chronic illness, mental illness, or other hardships.
“Get well soon” cards “don’t make sense when someone might not,” McDowell writes. “Sympathy cards can make people feel like you think they’re already dead. 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.”
Through her Empathy Cards, McDowell wishes “to help people connect with each other through truth and insight,” she writes. “I want the recipients of these cards to feel seen, understood, and loved.”
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