Greeting cards for long-term illness tend to offer extremely cliché attempts at inspirational messages: “One step at a time,” for example, or “Think positive and have faith.” Cliché is perhaps fine for a birthday card, but for a person dealing with the fear, anxiety, and stress (pdf, pg. 6) of serious illness, one often wants to convey support that goes beyond tired phrases.
That’s why the designer Emily McDowell, herself a cancer survivor, created “empathy cards,” a set of sometimes hilarious, mostly just frank, cards to give someone dealing with cancer or other serious illness. The cards all convey a commitment to physical presence and emotional support for a person.
McDowell was not immediately available for comment, but spokeswoman Sara Van der Voort tells Quartz that the response to these cards has been overwhelming. McDowell explained the problems with other cards in a blog post:
“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.
The most difficult part of her Stage 3 Hodgkin’s lymphoma diagnosis, McDowell wrote, 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.”