The Mother-Daughter Duo That Bullies Cancer With Humor

CURE, 2021 Breast Cancer Special Issue ,

Combine a mother’s breast cancer diagnosis with her daughter’s comedy background — what do you get? A podcast that laughs in cancer’s face.

Claudia Nicholls received a diagnosis of stage 1 breast cancer in 2017. It was what she and her daughter, Kate Nicholls, called "the Cadillac of cancers." It did, indeed, take her for a ride, as she then received a diagnosis of stage 3 and eventually stage 4 breast cancer when she went to Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore for a second opinion.

"That was when we went through kind of the grieving, the sadness and gathering family, but I don't feel like we were stuck in that (phase) for too long," Claudia Nicholls said.

Instead of dwelling on the sadness, Claudia decided to use this time to do something she always wanted to do with the help of her daughter, a professional comedian who moved from Los Angeles to Maryland to care for her. Claudia originally wanted to write a blog about a topic she’s been passionate about for nearly a decade.

“I’ve been salty since 2012 when the movie ‘Argo’ beat out the movie ‘Lincoln’ for best picture, so I wanted to talk about that,” she said.

Kate Nicholls added, “She wanted to make a blog as her bucket list thing. She comes out of her bedroom with a notebook that she had written — handwritten — five pages ... and said, ‘Put this on the internet. Let’s start a blog.’ ‘So basically what you’re asking me to do is type up your ramblings from your notebook and put it on the internet for you?’ I was, like, no.”

Although that’s what Claudia wanted, Kate expanded on this idea to make a podcast to allow her mother to conduct “bucket-list-worthy interviews” using her daughter’s contacts from her comedy and podcast connections. This is when their podcast, “Stage 4 Clinger,” was born.

“The name ‘Stage 4 Clinger’ kind of just came to me,” Kate said. “I was like, ‘What do you think?’ And (my mom) said, ‘Explain it to me.’ I (said), ‘Well, you’ve got stage 4 (cancer) and you’re really clingy.”

Claudia agreed, saying she clings to her kids so it’s only appropriate.

During each episode, which they host together, there are different segments such as “Let Me Get Something Off My Chest,” where Claudia vents about whatever is on her mind, allowing mother and daughter to work out some issues. There is also the segment “Dying to Talk to You.” For this, Kate sets up an interview for each episode and Claudia prepares questions for the celebrity. “(Kate) lets me talk during that segment,” she jokes.

Some of Claudia’s favorite guests include Yassir Lester (“Black Monday”), Neal Reddy (season 1 of “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy”), Rob Huebel (“The Office”), Poppy Liu (“Hacks”), Jon Glaser (“Parks and Recreation” and “Girls”) and Jenn Lyon (“Claws”).

The connection to the guests that they interview doesn’t end when the podcast goes live. Claudia mentioned that they have met some “amazing people” along the way, some of whom have become lifelong friends of Kate and even text her to see how her mother is doing.

Actress Joan Cusack and singer Dolly Parton are at the very top of their bucket list for interviews they’d love to conduct.

They don’t seek out guests who have a connection to cancer, but somehow many guests do.

“It’s amazing to me how many of these people have a parent, best friend or someone who has dealt with cancer,” Claudia said.

“I haven’t reached out to anybody because of their connection to cancer, or at least the ones that I have didn’t respond,” Kate added. “It’s just been people that I think that my mom would enjoy talking to, and then it does turn out that ... everyone has a personal connection to cancer in some way or another.”

Throughout the fun and laughs on their podcast, they use humor as a way to control the situation.

“Instead of whispering about cancer, or acting like ... everything’s so awful, we’d rather laugh and we’d rather bully cancer because cancer sucks,” Kate said. “We’re like, ‘You’re such a nerd, cancer. Get out of our face.’ We’re not fans of cancer, so that’s why we like to be lighthearted about it and make jokes because cancer doesn’t deserve our respect. People with cancer, we respect.”

Claudia added, “And we don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. That’s always been a little bit of a concern of mine, but this is how we deal with it. And it has made my life much better.”

Throughout her cancer journey, Claudia credits humor for helping her along the way.

She said, “Now, this is not earth-shattering what I’m going to say, and everybody knows this, but laughter, I swear — we always kid on the podcast, I probably got an extra month (of life) out of this podcast because I’ve been laughing so much.”

Listen to Claudia and Kate's full interview on CURE®'s "Cancer Horizons" podcast here.

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