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The one hundred honoree: Emily McDowell

Donor Story

The one hundred honoree: Emily McDowell

Mass General Giving

Emily McDowell remembers well the feelings of isolation and loneliness she felt 14 years ago when she spent nine months undergoing chemotherapy and radiation. Now cancer-free, she creates funny, honest greeting cards that give people the words they need to reach out to friends and family with cancer.

Emily was diagnosed at age 24 with Hodgkin’s lymphoma and found that many close friends and relatives disappeared from her life. She attributed their withdrawal to their inability to express their concern. Indeed, she found people often said the wrong thing without realizing it. That experience inspired the Los Angeles-based former creative director turned greeting card entrepreneur to launch her Empathy Cards™ series in 2015.

These brightly colored, minimalist cards with funky type address the reader in emotionally direct, humorous language. The cards not only capture what most people find difficult to say, but also what most patients would like to hear: “I’m so sorry you’re sick. I want you to know that I will never try to sell you some random treatment I read about on the Internet,” or, “When life gives you lemons, I won’t tell you a story about my cousin’s friend who died of lemons.”

“As someone who grew up with a parent terminally ill with cancer, I saw friends drift away and feel awkward around me, or say something inappropriate in their attempt to be helpful,” says one nominator. “Emily’s work is incredibly cathartic and resonates with me and many others.”