Being diagnosed with cancer is inexplicably tough.
But it can also be equally hard-going for those around you, who haven't got a clue what to say when you break the news. (Hint: "everything happens for a reason" is not a good place to start).
Now, a designer from Los Angeles has taken matters into her own hands by designing empathy cards for those whose words fail them during these tough times, in the hope that they will provide “better, more authentic ways to communicate about sickness and suffering” between patients and their loved ones.
Emily McDowell, 38, was diagnosed with stage 3 Hodgkin's lymphoma when she was 24 and had to undergo nine months of chemotherapy and radiation.
Writing in a personal blog post about her experiences of the illness, she says that the most difficult part wasn't losing her hair or "being erroneously called ‘sir’ by Starbucks baristas". It wasn't even sickness from chemotherapy.
Instead, "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 they said "the absolute wrong thing without realising it”.
McDowell, who is now cancer-free, hopes that the empathy cards will give those suffering from cancer, chronic illness, mental illness, or any other hardships a much-needed boost, but in an earnest yet humorous way.
She was inspired to design the cards after finding that get well soon cards might not necessarily "make sense" when someone might not get better, while "sympathy cards can make people feel like you think they’re already dead".
"A ‘fuck cancer’ card is a nice sentiment," she adds. "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 result? A collective of beautiful empathy cards which are sensitive without going overboard.
“I want the recipients of these cards to feel seen, understood, and loved,” adds McDowell.