Cancer sufferer in the race of her life

Katie Cox with Spy Da Moment, which she has driven in all of its six wins. Cox was diagnosed in...
Katie Cox with Spy Da Moment, which she has driven in all of its six wins. Cox was diagnosed in October with a very rare form of lung cancer. PHOTO: DANIEL ALVEY
Katie Cox thought nothing of a cough she developed in early September.

It came on the back of one of the bleakest and wettest winters Canterbury had experienced for some years.

The 33-year-old could count the number of times she had been to a doctor on one hand. Training and driving harness racing horses had kept her fit and healthy.

But the cough stuck around and by late September, she had developed chest pains, prompting her to go to the doctor.

“All it was was a bit of a cough, bit of a winter cough, you know it wasn’t that much. I just thought I’ll go to the doctor and get some antibiotics,” Cox said.

“The doctor gave me some antibiotics and thought it was most likely a bit of a chest infection.”

When she returned for a new prescription, her doctor sent her for a chest x-ray as a precaution.

Having never smoked or vaped Cox did not think much of it.

The x-ray did show some blockage in her lung, but again she was not worried.

“When it showed my lung was a bit blocked there was a possibility it could have just been a bit of grit or something off the track.

“It wasn’t until they did the CT scan and biopsy that we knew it was cancerous.”

Katie Cox after her first win as a trainer with Mad Lu Li at Geraldine in November 2017. PHOTO:...
Katie Cox after her first win as a trainer with Mad Lu Li at Geraldine in November 2017. PHOTO: HARNESS RACING NEWS DESK
It was about a month between the first doctor’s visit and the cancer diagnosis.

Cox, who was reluctant to talk about the day she found out the diagnosis, was with her mum Wendy, and partner, when the doctor delivered the news she had lung cancer.

She still did not believe it as she was being told.

“We thought they must have had the wrong person,” Cox said.

While on the antibiotics, Cox felt well and even won a race in Timaru on October 1.

“That’s probably the bizarre thing about it for someone who’s fit and healthy and never had anything more than a cold to have a bit of a cough and find it’s something so serious it certainly surprises you,” she said.

Studies have found her rare form of lung cancer, called non-small-cell adenocarcinoma EGFR Exon 20 with variant N771, is more common in non-smokers and women.

The oncologist has given Cox no indication of what may have been the cause.

Cox was told by the oncologist because she was healthy the cancer did not show any symptoms until it was very advanced.

The variant she has can be treated through medication, with Cox hoping research can produce a cure. However the medication is not funded, and all her treatment has to go through the private health system.

Following her diagnosis, an appeal was set up by Craig Wiggins, Cox’s friend and the founder of Whatever with Wiggy Charitable Trust.

Katie Cox has received about $300,000 as part of a fundraising appeal. PHOTO: DANIEL ALVEY
Katie Cox has received about $300,000 as part of a fundraising appeal. PHOTO: DANIEL ALVEY
The appeal has now raised about $300,000. Money has been raised through at a Melbourne Cup luncheon and auction at Addington, as well as racers donating an equivalent of a driving fee or some of their winnings, and general donations to the appeal.

“People in the industry and outside of the industry have just been so supportive,” Cox said.

Last week a yearling named Courageous Katie sold for $12,000 with all proceeds going to the Katie Cox Appeal Fund. As part of the sale, a 5 per cent share in the ongoing ownership of the filly will go to Cox.

Cox said without the support of the community she would not have been able to get the treatment needed.

“Without that, I could not have gone onto this drug. So I’ve been really fortunate that it has given me a chance to get onto a drug that otherwise you just couldn’t really self-fund.”

Currently, the Osimertinib oral drug she is on costs about $120,000, with no indication of how long she will need to be taking it or any other drug in the future.

All of the money raised is going towards her treatment, including the cost of the drug and other medical costs.

Cox has now been on the medication for about a month and has noticed a difference.

“I actually feel reasonably well, a few weeks ago I was pretty short on breath and tight on my chest.”

Cox is trying not to dwell on the diagnosis too much as she moves forward with her treatment.

“You’ve just got to get on and come up with the best thing you can.”

She did not want talk about her chances of survival. Research shows people with the lung cancer have an average life expectancy of nine months to five years.

She will be getting another CT scan in January.

Due to her illness, Cox has had to put training any horses at her Leeston property on hold for now. Currently, she is only tending to her own horses, with the others being sent to other trainers.

“I’m not working any horses and staff working for me unfortunately I had to lay them all off.”

Before becoming ill Cox would be working from dawn to dusk. She would be training and breaking in up to 20 horses at a time.

For Cox, this is the first time in 30 years she hasn’t been able to ride or drive horses.

Wendy first introduced her to horses when she was three with riding lessons.

“When I was about five or six the neighbours had some donkeys and I rode them quite a bit,” she said.

Early on in her career, she focused on showjumping, travelling to the United States for a few months, competing in Ohio and Kentucky. She also competed for the New Zealand Young Riders team.

After returning from the US Cox spent three years at Lincoln University doing a degree in property valuation and management.

Between 2013 and 2017 she had a small number of starters, as her core business at that stage was breaking in horses.

Her first official training win was with Mad Lu Li at Geraldine in November 2017.

Cox’s best season to date was in 2021 when she trained 10 winners including Spy Da Moment, which has six wins from 60 starts.

About six years ago she achieved a lifetime goal of her own stable, purchasing a property in Leeston after having worked for other trainers while living in Tai Tapu and Springston.

The stable is named Te Awatea after her great-grandfather and her grandfather’s farm on the Chatham Islands.

This year she reached a career total of 100 driving wins, her most memorable coming in May when she trained and drove It’s Tough in the Group 2 Welcome Stakes win at Addington Raceway.

While Cox is sidelined she will be hoping to get to the track as a spectator.

“It would be good to see everyone in the industry.”

  • Do you want to help? Please deposit any donations into the following account: Whatever with Wiggy Charitable Trust CC59951 Katie Cox Appeal 06-0837-0390071-01 and please use the reference 'Katie'