Rower with incurable cancer to tackle Atlantic challenge

Pictured are Kat, Charlotte and Abby.

Pictured are Kat, Charlotte and Abby. - Credit: Southern News & Pictures (SNAP)

A woman who has incurable cancer is set to find herself in the record books by tackling a gruelling 3,000 mile row across the Atlantic Ocean.

Kat Cordiner, 40, will be the first cancer patient to complete the endurance race - if everything goes according to plan.

Kat, whose family home is in St Neots, will be part of a three-woman crew aiming to break the world record for the trip, which starts in December.

“To me, this challenge also represents something more – to live like I’ve never lived before,” said Kat, who is in remission but has been told her life can be measured in years rather than decades.

She will be rowing with Charlotte Irving, 31, and Abby Johnston, 32, on a 25ft boat, named Dolly Parton, in shifts of two hours on and two hours off for up to 60 days, during the Talisker Whisky Atlantic Challenge.

The rowers hope to raise £100,000 for Cancer Research UK, Macmillan Cancer Support and the Royal Marsden Cancer Charity.

The trip was already being planned when Kat, who went to St Mary’s CofE Primary School in St Neots and St Bede’s Inter-Church School and Hills Road Sixth Form College, both in Cambridge, was diagnosed with cervical cancer in March 2019 and then had a second cancer diagnosis during lockdown. 

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It is thought that Kat, an international manager at HSBC, would be the first person with cancer to tackle the row, which starts in the Canary Islands on December 12. The record stands at 49 days.

Kat, who lives in London and regularly visits her parents in St Neots, was undergoing a procedure to freeze her eggs so she could have children in the future, when her cancer was discovered.

She said: “I was freezing my eggs. During the first collection, it all went well and I was just waiting to go home when they said they had spotted a potential problem, not with the eggs, but with me,” she said. 

“I was distraught. I was actually more upset about not being able to carry a child than I was about the cancer. I’m someone who has always wanted a family – that’s why I was freezing my eggs.

As it happens, they found the cancer. It was actually fortunate they found it as I had no symptoms.”

Kat underwent a radical hysterectomy but doctors left her ovaries as she wanted to do another round of egg-freezing.

Once her eggs were harvested, she had her ovaries removed as there was a higher chance of the cancer returning if they remained.

But last year, during lockdown, Kat was given a second cancer diagnosis and told that this time, the disease was incurable.

Kat said: “My doctor talked about other possibilities like infections but I knew instantly the cancer was back.”

There was a further blow when doctors found a growth on her heart and told her to stop exercising immediately. Her medical team decided to treat the cancer first and then operate on her heart to remove the tumour.

She said: “The doctors have told me I don’t have decades, I have years, so I really want to make the most of them. I don’t want to muck around doing stuff that doesn’t matter. I want to do things that are challenging and fun.

“To me, this challenge also represents something more – to live like I’ve never lived before. I read somewhere that a cancer diagnosis helps you understand life is a gift and not a guarantee and this creates opportunities.

“Even after my first diagnosis, I found I stopped stressing over a lot of things. I gained perspective on what is important and I’m determined to make the most of however much time I have.”

Kat is now considering donating the eggs which were harvested to someone who needs them.
Further information about the row is at and donations can be made at