At the age of 24, Los Angeles–based designer Emily McDowell found out she had stage 3 Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
But after nine months of chemo and radiation, McDowell wrote on her blog that the hardest part of the process wasn't what most people expect.
The most difficult part of my illness wasn't losing my hair, or being erroneously called "sir" by Starbucks baristas, or sickness from chemo. 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.
So McDowell, who is now 38 and cancer-free, decided to design cards that said the things she wanted to hear when she was going through her sickness. She calls them Empathy Cards.
McDowell wrote she's wanted to do the project for "a long time" and hopes the cards "help people connect with each other through truth, and to help people with illness feel seen and understood."
"Being sick can be really lonely," she wrote on her site. "One major reason is because most people don't know what to say, so they disappear, or say the wrong thing entirely."
The designer, who runs EmilyMcDowell.com, wrote that many cards on the market for people with cancer fall short in expressing a meaningful sentiment.
The cards, which are hand-drawn in Photoshop and feature her signature colorful illustration style with loopy bubble letters, are $4.50 each on her site.
"'Get well soon' cards don’t make sense when someone might not," McDowell wrote.
"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."
"When someone you love gets sick, it's really natural to get scared and uncomfortable and not know what to say," she wrote. "It's happened to all of us."
BuzzFeed News has reached out to McDowell for comment on the new project.