Dowd's mother loses battle with cancer

By Bob Harig, Times Staff Writer
Published May 26, 2007

The dream was to live long enough to see her daughter compete in a golf tournament against the LPGA's best.

But it turned out to be so much more than that.

Kelly Jo Dowd not only got to watch teenage phenom Dakoda Dowd perform on a national stage, but the mother was also able to fulfill her goal of bringing national awareness to breast cancer prevention.

Her long fight against cancer ended Thursday night at the Innisbrook condo where the Dowd family moved two years ago after learning that Kelly Jo's breast cancer had returned. She was 42.

"The way she handled the loss of her physical beauty really showed her inner beauty, " said Kelly Jo's husband, Mike Dowd. "She fought it for herself, she fought it for her family and she fought it for others. And she considered it a gift every day that she was alive."

Mrs. Jo Dowd, originally from Michigan, was a Hooters waitress, calendar model and worked her way up through the company to become a general manager.

The Dowds' daughter, Dakoda, now 14, was already an accomplished junior player when Kelly Jo, in late 2001, discovered a lump in her breast. It wasn't until 10 months later that it was diagnosed as cancer. She endured a double mastectomy and intense chemotherapy, and despite her hair falling out, she continued to work at the Hooters in Palm Harbor.

The cancer went into remission until about two years ago, when doctors discovered the disease in her hip, liver and near her spine.

"I'm in this boat because I waited too long, " Mrs. Dowd said in an April, 2006 interview. "Like any disease, breast cancer along with it, the sooner you get it, the sooner you can catch it and be done with it. So don't wait."

That is the message Mrs. Dowd tried to deliver for the rest of her life.

And that is why she accepted countless interview requests, from publications such as People, the New York Times and USA Today. They wanted to talk to her because the Ginn Open outside of Orlando had extended Dakoda a sponsor's exemption to play in the 2006 tournament.

At the time, it was unclear whether Mrs. Dowd would live long enough to see her daughter play.

But Mrs. Dowd was there when Dakoda shot 74 during the first round, giving herself a chance to make the cut. A second-round 82 made it just a two-day tournament, but Dakoda was lauded for the way she stood up to the pressure and the manner in which she honored her mother.

"It was more for Mom, " Dakoda Dowd said. "It wasn't because I was good enough. It was an honor."

"My wife put a face to breast cancer, " Mike Dowd said. "I'm proud and honored the way she stood up to it. Early detection was Kelly Jo's message. ... Her life was not lost in vain. Maybe it was lost for a bigger cause. Especially that week, they were on a massive platform. I know women made plans to get a checkup because of that. My wife derived a lot of satisfaction from that."

Dakoda continues to pursue her junior golf career. She recently failed to advance through local qualifying for the U.S. Women's Open. She will be a freshman at Tarpon Springs High this fall and expects to play on the boys' golf team.

A viewing for Kelly Jo Dowd is scheduled from 4-7 p.m. Tuesday at Sylvan Abbey in Clearwater, followed by a reception at the Hooter's on Gulf to Bay. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the Making Memories Breast Cancer Foundation at www.makingmemories.org.

Bob Harig can be reached at 727 893-8806 or harig@sptimes.com.