REUNION, Fla. (AP) — Two months ago, Dakoda Dowd thought the end was here.
Her mother was bedridden for weeks, unable to move, unable to take care of herself. Kelly Jo Dowd’s hair was gone, her spirit was waning and Dakoda feared the worst, that cancer was finally going to take her mother.
“Yes, cancer is winning,” Dakoda said. “But my mom is still fighting.”
A year ago, the Dowd family was the feel-good story of the Ginn Open. Dakoda, then 13, got in on a sponsor’s exemption and wound up flirting with the cut, while her mother — who’d been told that she might only have a couple months to live — got what she called her final wish, seeing her girl play with the LPGA’s best.
It has been a difficult 12 months, but 42-year-old Kelly Jo Dowd is still here. She has gotten some of her energy back and, after months on an experimental oral chemotherapy drug, is now taking only steroids and pain medication.
“I’m fighting for my life and my family,” she said Saturday from the family’s home in Palm Harbor. “I’m living to be positive and getting the word out about the importance of mammograms and the importance of fighting. I’ve told people my story. It’d be hypocritical to not fight.”
And Dakoda says she’s grateful for every second they have left.
“Most families never get to do something this amazing,” Dakoda said. “I still can’t believe my mom and I got a chance to do it.”
Dakoda was back at the Ginn Open on Saturday, this time as a fan. A year after shooting rounds of 74 and 82 at Reunion, Dakoda arrived with her father, Mike Dowd, and a young friend, invited back by tournament officials to take another look at the LPGA world.
“It’s pretty weird,” Dakoda said. “I can’t believe it’s been a year.”
The Dowds went public with their story last year to raise awareness about cancer and how women should be vigilant in getting checked. Something Kelly Jo Dowd freely acknowledges she didn’t do.
Dakoda, a soon-to-be-high-schooler, has barely changed in the past 12 months. She’s a couple inches taller, has tweaked her swing and putting stroke, but that’s about it. She’s still bubbly, teases her father when he uses big words, and continues to talk incessantly about her love for shopping, boys and other obsessions that most teenagers share.
Deep down, though, the girl has a somber side, one that only comes out when talking about her mother.
“It feels like I’m going through a haunted house every single day,” Dakoda said. “And I don’t know what’s going to happen next, who’s going to jump out and scare me.”
Kelly Jo Dowd was diagnosed with breast cancer five years ago, and it has continued popping up all over her body since. She’s battled liver and bone cancer in recent years, and underwent her latest scan Friday to see if — or where — the disease has spread.
Around Christmas, the family learned the cancer had made its way to her brain.
Dakoda began fearing the worst. But her mom once again found a way to pull through.
“It’ll never break us,” Dakoda said.
“We fight hard, we love hard,” Mike Dowd said. “We go through it. We have to. We all keep each other real. And so many people have loved our family during this process.”
Indeed, Dakoda’s support group is massive.
She claims to have six sets of grandparents — one on her mom’s side, one on her dad’s side, and the rest are people who became such close friends with the Dowds that they’re now considered family. One of her coaches always takes her to lunch after practices, another recently took her to Georgia for a putting lesson, and her cell phone is loaded with numbers of friends.
“Dakoda is a survivor in the truest sense of the word,” Mike Dowd said. “She’s surrounded herself with people who love her and are going to be there for her. She loves her mom, she’s crazy about her, but she’s going to be OK, too.”