Twenty years ago, Kat Cowling settled in La Jolla, after leaving her homeland of Brazil, drawn to the area’s easy-going lifestyle. She was welcomed with open arms, and since that time, Kat has given back to the community as her way of saying thanks.
I spoke with Kat one morning over coffee at Elixir on Girard about her current volunteer service with the Immunotherapy Foundation (IF). The local nonprofit organization was founded in 2015 by Fernanda and Ralph Whitworth, who himself was fighting an HPV-related cancer and passed away in 2016. The Whitworths also established a lab on the University of California, San Diego campus to further immunotherapy research. Kat had met Fernanda through various nonprofit event committees. Finding a common bond of heritage and love of philanthropy, they became close friends. This friendship led to Kat’s involvement with IF and supporting not only Fernanda in continuing the work in memory of Ralph, but in keeping the vision of a world without cancer alive.
When Kat started explaining to me about how the HPV vaccine technology works — well, Kat’s passion came out.
“When you get HPV-related cancer as an adult, instead of chemotherapy, you get the vaccine,” she said, “and your own white cells multiply and eliminate the cancer cells…well, it’s going to be one of the biggest treatments in the United States…and when you see how excited the doctors are about it, that it’s absolutely amazing…there are no words to describe the improvements they can do…you’ll want to help in whatever way you can, even if it’s only five dollars.”
Kat is using that passionate energy to help get the word out about the IF’s upcoming annual Rock & Roll Avalanche event, on Sept. 21 at the Music Box in Little Italy, which features a concert by music legend Billy Idol. She emphasized that Idol will be bringing his full band, and that attendees should plan for hors d’oeuvres, drinks, and a silent and live auction. The Rock & Roll Avalanche is a fundraiser to help the IF continue its work in identifying and funding transformative immunotherapy research projects, as well as getting the word out for parents to get their adolescents the HPV vaccine.
Working with the IF is not Kat’s first experience helping the community. After moving to La Jolla, she soon married Derek Cowling, who as part of the Dixieline Lumber family, had a family heritage of philanthropy in the San Diego community since 1913, including health care organizations, universities, and the San Diego Police Department. Kat is “so grateful for the lessons I learned from my family and am incredibly proud of the legacy they created…and I was inspired to do more myself.”
Inspiration came in the form of helping children and co-founding Heels2Heal, an all-volunteer women's organization that helped raise funds for nonprofit organizations through charity events, such as Angel Foster Family and Miracle Babies.
Kat makes it a point to teach these values to her teen children, Lucas and Gigi, and discuss issues of the day while sitting down together at dinnertime, keeping the Brazilian vibe alive in her home. When traveling back home to Brazil or other countries, Kat exposes her children to everything in the area they are visiting and adapts to each country. She treats them like adults, including never choosing from the children’s menu when dining out. Kat truly enjoys spending time with her kids as a family, and also marking out one-on-one time.
What does Kat do in her free time? With a background in health and nutrition, she uses that knowledge to help teach fitness. Kat has taught Pilates, spin classes, and currently yoga at Buddhi Yoga. Kat teaches a FlowLIFT yoga class on Friday afternoons — a high-energy, full-body workout set to South American music. Think of it as a fun, club-like de-stressor class, “It’ll make you feel like a million bucks.” Kat also loves to sing — piano bar and karaoke, and loves the ocean, going to the beach with her dogs on a daily basis.
Brazil’s loss is our gain when Kat realized she would not be going back, and instead started her life's journey in La Jolla. Kat summed it all up when she ended our conversation by warmly saying that “I love helping people, and it makes me happy to see other people happy. And what I love about this community is that they opened their arms and welcomed me so well, and why not give back? And if God gives you something, you give it back.”
For information about the Immunotherapy Foundation and the Rock & Roll Avalanche fundraiser featuring a concert by Billy Idol on Sept. 21 at the Music Box, go to theimmunotherapyfoundation.org.