Emily McDowell is one of our favorite makers, with her witty puns and adorable cat sketches. And this month, she started a whole new line of cards inspired by her experience dealing with cancer, and dealing with people who don’t know how to deal with cancer. She calls these cards “empathy cards.”


On her website she writes about how hard it can be to find the right thing to say when facing a loved one in a major health crisis, whether it’s cancer, mental illness or anything else. It seems that when it’s someone close to us, that’s when we have the toughest time knowing what to say.


On her site, Emily talked about all the wrong kinds of cards people give when facing a major illness: “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. ‘Get well soon’ cards don’t make sense when someone might not. 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.”


Her goal with the empathy cards was to help people connect with each other through thoughtful honesty and for the recipients to feel seen, understood and, most importantly, loved. Emily is herself a cancer survivor, making these cards especially close to her heart. Diagnosed with Stage 3 Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the age 24, she went into remission after nine months of chemo and radiation and has been cancer-free since.


She comments that the hardest part of having cancer wasn’t losing her hair or constantly being sick from the chemo. She said the most difficult part of her illness was the loneliness and isolation she felt: “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.” Based on her experience, Emily set out to create empathy cards that say the things she would’ve liked to hear when she was sick.


We are huge believers in the power of snail mail, and when it comes to something as serious as a life-changing illness, a handwritten card touches someone in a way that email and text messages just can’t. “I think Empathy Cards are the most important things I’ve designed so far,” Emily commented, “and they’re some of my personal favorites. It’s not often that you look at a greeting card and think, ‘The world needs this,’ but in this case, I really believe that’s true.” There are eight cards in the empathy collection, but Emily plans on adding more designs to reach out to more people.

What do you think of these empathy cards? Share your thoughts in the comments below!