In her mid-40s, Heather Tolley-Bauer’s was raising a son and running her public relations business in Connecticut,  when her husband announced he was taking a job in Atlanta. 

Suddenly, she was in East Cobb, no  job, her son in kindergarten, and her husband busy with his new job. 

“Looking back, I had done a lot of pivoting,” she said. “I’d done it when I  left the corporate world and started my  own business and then did it again when  I became a mom, so I knew how to do it.  I was just a little mad that I had to. 

“At the time everybody had blogs. So, my big idea was to do something new once a week  or month—explore this brand-new time in my life in this  new city—and blog about it,” Heather said. But the blog  never materialized. Her first outing was to take a stand up comedy class, and she’s been performing stand-up  ever since. 

Her comedy routine was therapeutic. She was able  to talk about the less-rewarding aspects of life as a sub urban stay-at-home mom, and it resonated with other  women. She says women feel guilty about complaining  about being a stay-at-home mom, because they know  they are fortunate. 

“Forgive me for not being all that excited about my  schedule of Zumba, picking up my Xanax prescription,  and stopping by the wine shop,” she said. “And then I’m  going home to polish the granite. Buzy, buzy, buzy! Yes,  I’m very fortunate, but I’m not 100 percent fulfilled by it.” 

Women tell her after her shows that it helps take  some of the maternal guilt away by being able to laugh  about their lives. She says out loud what other women  are thinking. 

“If we can just laugh at the small stuff, that it gives us  the bandwidth for the bigger stuff,” Heather said. 

Stuff like Cancer. One year after starting her comedy  career, she was diagnosed with colorectal cancer.  

She didn’t have symptoms, but a dermatologist  looked at her family history and thought she might have  a gene that put her at high risk for colon cancer.  

“I might have just ignored him, except I was like,  ‘you’re so adorable I will get that colonoscopy,” Heather recalled.

The colonoscopy revealed stage 1  cancer, and further testing showed she,  indeed, had a gene making her susceptible to many different cancers. To date,  she’s been diagnosed six times with four different types of cancer. 

“I was one-year into my comedy  career and wasn’t sure where to go  with it,” she said. “But I realized I have  a real opportunity. I can use my comedy to advocate for early colonoscopies, because people think that it’s an  old man’s disease and I am a young  woman. 

“We all know laughter’s the best medicine, but  sometimes medicine is the best medicine,” she said. “But  humor heels. When we tell our stories it makes a difference—it changes lives.” 

She’s also made it her mission to help other women  in comedy. Her monthly comedy show, Laugh Lines  and Stretch Marks at Mad Life Stage and Studios in  Woodstock, features a national headliner and local  female comics. She says that comedy is still a male dominated field, so she prides herself in providing good-paying stage time for female comics. 

Now she’s pivoting again. The past year she’s been  customizing comedy routines for corporate meetings.  Additionally, she’s partnered with psychologist and  burnout expert Dr. Sharon Grossman to offer a “variety  show-meets TED talk,” entitled Crack up your Code:  Re-engage your way back from burnout.  

“Our goal is to be a major component of corporate  meetings and professional conferences,” Heather said. 

In the meantime, she’s committed to continue producing her monthly comedy show, which is celebrating  its 5th anniversary in May. Laugh Lines and Stretch Marks  is the only regularly occurring all-female comedy show in  all of Atlanta. 

You can find Heather at  

Neeahtima Dowdy is the creator of We’re Not Dead Yet:  Women rocking their next chapter, inspiring women over  40, 50, 60 and beyond. Instagram: @yetwerenotdead;  Facebook: @womenrockingnextchapter;  


Article written by Neeahtima Dowdy