Emily McDowell Sympathy Cards


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As you all know, I have talked and talked  (and talked!) about what to say and what not to say to someone who has cancer. It is stupendously important for friends of people who have cancer to know how to connect and communicate about sickness and suffering without bringing dreaded false cheer or just plain offensiveness to the conversation. It is such a fine line that I – as a patient and a friend! – have experienced firsthand.  Not being sure what to say or do (or not say or do!) feels just plain awful.

Well, the Silver Lining is that my friend Emily McDowell, a fantabulous LA-based graphic designer and artist, has launched a new series of emotionally direct greeting cards that say the things she wanted to hear when she was diagnosed with stage 3 Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the age of 24. After 9 months of chemo and radiation, she has been cancer-free ever since and on a mission to help friends and family better communicate with loved ones who are ill.

Emily says that the loneliness and isolation she felt when many of her close friends disappeared during her illness because they didn’t know what to say, or said the absolute wrong thing without realizing it. This is what motivated her to create empathy cards.

Most of us struggle to find the right words in the face of a friend or loved one’s major health crisis, whether it’s cancer, chronic illness, mental illness, or anything else. It’s a really tough problem; someone we love needs our support more than ever, but we don’t have the right language for it.

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.

With Empathy Cards, my goal is to help people connect with each other through truth and insight, which is one of the founding principles of this brand. I want the recipients of these cards to feel seen, understood, and loved.

The cards provide better, more authentic ways to communicate about sickness, suffering, and F-bomb cancer between friends, family, and patients. Her goal is to help people connect with each other through truth and insight and to make the recipients of the cards feel understood and loved.

All of the cards include bright colors, minmal imagery, and a homey touch that Emily hand draws on Photoshop with a digital pen. Talk about some major talent!!

Here are a few of her most popular cards. I love ’em. What do you think?

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Check out Emily’s website at: http://info.emilymcdowell.com/empathy-cards-for-serious-illness/

Leave a comment


  1. joie singer says

    BRILLIANT!! And too long in coming. A close friend and cousin is recovering from a heart/kidneys (plural) transplant. Encouraging her to stay positive while hospitalized and waiting for the right donor match gets a little tricky. How do you say you’re right there for her as we wait for someone with healthy organs to die so she may live? Finding cards to convey that is, shall we say, challenging. Now that she’s been replanted, so to speak, fighting her way back up from 88 lbs. and rebuilding her strength (walked a whole mile last week!) it’s hard to find great cards saying just the right thing that don’t yell Happy Birthday! when you open them.

    Long live Emily, and long live thee for introducing Emily to the rest of us.

    • silverpen says

      Thank you so much for your note, Joie. Emily is a special one…
      Sending my best wishes to your friend/cousin!

  2. E.B. says

    I am reading this laughing and crying at the same time. These cards are a GREAT idea. It’s like Emily channeled my Mom’s personality, wit, humor and great courage. Love, love, love these cards. A huge THANK YOU to Emily and, as always, to you.

  3. says

    I love these! I have had several sweet friends go through breast cancer, chemo and all that entails, and these are perfect. It was so apparent to my friends (and myself) that many people just don’t know what to say to someone with cancer, so they avoid them, or talk about everything else besides the cancer. These cards will really help show caring, loving support. Thanks for sharing!

    • silverpen says

      Awwwww thank you…and thanks to Ellie for her kind words! Isn’t she the BEST? Love love love her! xxx

  4. Joanie Aldrich says

    Darling Hollye,

    What a great idea. I’m always struggling with what to say when a friend
    or loved one is battling a serious illness. Also it is often times hard to relay
    Condolences when someone passes … Why is that ? Has it something to
    Do with human nature ? We know how to share love and happiness but when
    Things get tough we tend to get tongue tied. I’d like your thoughts on this.
    Thanks a bunch,
    Hearts love,

    • silverpen says

      Wisely said, Joanie. I wholeheartedly agree that we are programmed for the “good” but when the yogurt hits the fan (as they say), we become tongue tied. This is something that I am going to think about and – with your encouragement – will write about. xxx