Flipping the Switch

27 Oct

Jerry Sorkin, a great friend and mentor to Chip, died yesterday after living with Stage IV lung cancer for nine years. Nine years!

I first wrote of Jerry in November of 2013 in the post I’m a Survivor (What?) after Chip participated in his first Breathe Deep DC 5K Walk on the Mall. After Jerry’s diagnosis in 2007, he became involved with LUNGevity in 2009 and organized the first fundraising walk for lung cancer on the National Mall that same year. His wife, Lisa, named the event Breathe Deep, which has now been adopted by all LUNGevity fundraising walks around the country.

After that first walk, Chip reached out to the LUNGevity Foundation to see how he could get involved. Chip met with LUNGevity President Andrea Ferris, who then connected Chip with Jerry. Jerry worked at Corporate Executive Board in Rosslyn just a couple of blocks away from Chip’s office at Raytheon, so they became lunch buddies. I think those lunches with Jerry became a huge part of Chip’s treatment, because they always provided him with such hope–hope that prognoses could be beaten and hope that we had not yet run out of treatment options, as Jerry was always in the know of what was coming down the pike in terms of new scientific developments and drugs.

Chip and I once had a double date with Jerry and Lisa in the cafeteria at Johns Hopkins. Woop woop!! I think Jerry was there for scans that day, and Chip and I were in-between labs and the infusion suite while we waited for the pharmacy to mix his chemo. We all laughed at what our social lives had come to, attending cancer galas and meeting up in hospitals for “fun.” On that particular day, the four of us mainly discussed our kids and how to talk to them about cancer. Their two girls, Emma and Claire, were seven and five at the time he was diagnosed, so quite young, but significantly older than Joe and Crosby, so their level of understanding was much greater. Chip and I so appreciated their counsel that day.

Ironically, or maybe not at all, yesterday was also the four-year anniversary of Chip’s Stage IV lung cancer diagnosis. October 26th has been a real “kick in the dick” (as Chip would say) day for us, for me for the last four years. October 26th represents that line in the sand. It’s the before and after. Obviously the day we were served that Shit Sandwich was unfathomable. I chronicled how searing that first year post-diagnosis was in An Anniversary of Sorts and the poignancy of year two in We’ve STILL Got This. Last year was the first anniversary without Chip being here, which also coincided with the golf tournament, and it was all just so hard in every single way.

The lead up to this year’s anniversary was no different. For weeks, I have relived all of this trauma and experienced much anticipatory grief and anxiety, but yesterday, I woke up determined to flip the switch on how I felt about this day, because as long as I am privileged to live on this earth, there will always be an October 26th. It took me going back and re-reading my own blog posts to realize that yesterday was not just the day Chip was diagnosed with cancer. Yesterday was the day Chip taught us “We’ve got this!” He showed us what strength and courage look like. He taught us that we may not be able to control our circumstances, but we can control how we respond to them. He showed us how to keep moving forward. He taught us about relentless positivity and how to come together as a team. He taught us what really matters in life and how to let the anger go, because anger only robs you of joy and from being present in your life. He taught us that anyone can die but it takes courage to live! To have the courage to live.

Jerry was a courageous man, and he had the courage to live and to make a difference in so many lives. The loss of Chip and Jerry and Monica Barlow are so great, but what they left us behind are even greater. Cancer did not define any of them, but their responses to it did, and I give such deep thanks for each of their great lives.

I learned Jerry had died yesterday right before going to bed, and I went right back to hating on October 26th again. HATED it. My heart just ached for Lisa, Emma and Claire and for all those who mourn him.

This morning after dropping the kids off at school, I came back to the house, was cleaning up the kitchen after breakfast, and I stepped outside to take out the trash. As I walked out the back door, this fluffy, white feather came flittering down and landed right before my feet. As I reached down to pick it up, I obviously started sobbing but also felt such joy and peace, because I knew it was Chip telling me Jerry was there with him.

I know I might sound crazy to some right now, but I don’t even care, because it’s a real thing. Google it. After Reilly Lewis died, I asked Chip to let me know once he had connected with him, and I asked Chip to please explain to Reilly why I never could write him that thank you note and to let him know how much we both loved and appreciated him. A few days later, Chip sent me a little fluffy, white feather. After my Grandmother Boyd died this summer, I asked Chip to please let me know once he met up with her and to let her know what a good Grandmomma she had been to me. A few days later, Chip sent me a fluffy, white feather. I guess Chip is in Jerry’s inner circle, because he sent me one right away this morning. I think Chip was also trying to hit me over the head and tell me to stop hating as it’s really all ok, because “We’ve still got this.” We really, truly do.

May you enjoy your rest in eternal peace, dear Jerry.


Jerry and Lisa at Breathe Deep DC (via LUNGevity

You can read more about Jerry on the LUNGevity website: LUNGevity Foundation mourns the loss of beloved friend, advocate, and Vice Chairman of the Board Jerry Sorkin | Nine-year lung cancer survivor worked tirelessly on behalf of people diagnosed with lung cancer.



No Rest. Fly! 2016

17 Jan

“No rest. Fly!” That is what Crosby, in all of her newly turned two year old wisdom, instructed us to do last year on the morning Chip went to heaven, so this weekend, Clete, the kids and I decided to head to the mountains of West Virginia to find joy and experience happiness, just as Chip had instructed us to do. We’ve bowled, ice skated, eaten ice cream, swum, watched the Pats win, played in the arcade, stayed up past our bedtime, cackle laughed, and even had a dance off to our favorite One Direction songs. (Joe won and Crosby received honorable mention.)

Joe asked me the other day why Daddy hadn’t sent us any snow yet this winter. This morning we woke up to the most beautiful and gently falling snow. I told Joe he must have been waiting until today to send us a little extra love. Received and right back at’cha, Chip Kennett, forever and ever.

We’ve got this.


Brooke Conley’s “A Year of Firsts”

16 Oct

Brooke Conley, Chip would have leapt at the chance to pour some sugar on you!! Thank you for always getting it right when you write about Chip and giving me the gift of your words. I missed seeing you this birthday weekend but am grateful Chip brought us together (and that you are still championing the ‪#‎selfawareness‬ cause). – Sheila

Brooke’s new blog post:


My birthday is a few days away, which in my younger years signaled the start of a week-long party filled with the types of shenanigans that are forever locked in a memory vault titled Shit You Do Before Kids. These days, there are no t-shirts to mark the occasion or requests for the DJ – there is simply reflection and gratitude. (Although if someone made me a shirt, I wouldn’t be mad about it.)

This year is particularly bittersweet because it’s the first without my dear friend Chip. Every year since we left the Beltway, I’ve traveled back to D.C. for my birthday weekend. I even managed to make it the year I had an actively nursing 5-month-old baby girl. I packed up my breast pump and my postpartum depression, stocked the freezer with four days worth of milk, and left her in Arizona with her daddy. Clearly there wasn’t much that could keep me away.

My favorite part of the weekend was a long lunch with Chip, where we looked forward to recapitulating the previous twelve months in one sitting. As the years wore on, our conversations turned more reflective as we added spouses, kids, career changes and, ultimately, cancer to our list of things to discuss. Our last lunch was difficult because he was ill from chemotherapy and unable to eat. But he still showed up.

Chip always showed up.

Roll Call Reports on Chip Kennett Memorial Golf Tournament

2 Oct

Many thanks to Rebecca Gale for reporting on the Chip Kennett Memorial Golf Tournament. Her article will appear in Monday’s print edition of Roll Call. This is going to be a great event! – Sheila

Members of Congress, Staff Tee Off to Remember Chip Kennett
By Rebecca Gale
Roll Call

Members of Congress, current and former staffers are among the honorary host and tournament committees of The Chip Kennett Memorial Golf Tournament, scheduled for Oct. 26 at the Westfields Golf Club in Clifton, Va.

Kennett was a former Capitol Hill staffer who received a stage IV lung cancer diagnosis in 2012 at the age of 31. He became an advocate for more cancer research funding and increased access to clinical trial medications, even testifying to Congress about his personal experience. Advocates within the cancer community credit his fight with helping spur congressional action.

He died on Jan. 17, at the age of 34.

“Three years ago on October 26th, as a seemingly healthy 31-year-old man and soon-to-be father of our second child, Chip was diagnosed with stage IV non-smokers lung cancer and given 1-2 years to live. No one, no spouse, no parent, no child, no friend deserves to hear that,” his wife, Sheila Kennett, said in an email to CQ Roll Call. “On October 26th, we honor Chip’s life and continue his work in raising funds and awareness for LUNGevity, an organization that provided us with indispensable support and remains in the forefront of need and developing treatment options.”

Continue reading at Roll Call

The Chip Kennett Memorial Golf Tournament

12 Sep

On October 26, 2012, Chip and I were delivered the shit sandwich of a lifetime.

This year on October 26, we are going to celebrate his life and raise a shit-ton of awareness and money for LUNGevity at the first annual Chip Kennett Memorial Golf Tournament, to prevent other families from enduring what we had to.

Details (PDF download)

ck1 ck2

LUNGevity Video

4 Feb

Today is World Cancer Day, so we thought it was a good time to post this video:


The video was thoughtfully and beautifully put together by our friends at LUNGevity, from footage shot for their 2014 foundation video. We are so grateful to them for creating this for us!

Learn more about LUNGevity and their important work at http://lungevity.org.

Day in the Life

1 Feb

Back in May 2014, the lovely and talented photographer Jennifer Hughes had taken some family photos for us. A few days later, she emailed me with the offer to come back to spend another day with our family – not to take formal pictures, but to document our real life instead. She wanted to be a fly on the wall and capture our day from start to finish.

Chip and I loved the idea, but I was a little bit like Reese Witherspoon in Wild. I mean, I was just supposed to roll out of bed circa 6:45/7:00 a.m. to unlock the front door for her while she patiently waited downstairs for the kids to stir and I didn’t need to coordinate, but not match, our clothes for the day?

Jennifer spent that fly-on-the-wall day with us in June, and how grateful we are to have these photos of our family. She has been kind enough to post them to her website. Thank you, Jennifer!


(If you’re viewing on a computer, use the bottom scrollbar.)

photo by jennifer hughes

photo by jennifer hughes

Celebration of Life: A Recap

29 Jan

It’s been a week since we gathered together to celebrate Chip’s life. A big, warm THANK YOU to all who were there with us in person and to those who joined us in spirit. Several requests have come in for the remembrances and homily delivered at the memorial service and for a copy of The After Party playlist, so here’s a recap of last Thursday:

Memorial Service Program (PDF)


Homily by The Rev. Oran E. Warder (PDF)

The After Party Playlist (Spotify)
The bad news: Spotify does not have in its collection a few very important songs: The Idea of You (Live)/Dave Matthews Band, Shake It Off /Taylor Swift and Callin’ Baton Rouge (Live)/Garth Brooks. So you’ll just have to listen to those on your own. But the rest of the music from the party can be found at the link above. I wanted to include Lie in Our Graves from DMB The Gorge if the party had only been 16:59 longer. If you have a Spotify account, you should be able to log in and listen; if you don’t, you can sign up for an account – it’s a free service (with the ads). 

Chip’s Obituary
For some reason, The Washington Post/legacy.com copied and pasted the memorial contributions section twice. A very benevolent intern, perhaps? 

Thank you all again. Now, as Crosby and Clete have directed us … NO REST. FLY!

Dear World Video

26 Jan

We’re sharing another video today, this one a project of Robert X. Fogarty’s Dear World. The video was filmed on November 10, 2014. AstraZeneca sponsored a cancer survivor project with Robert, and LUNGevity recommended Chip after the video we did with them. We are forever grateful.


Miles Back Home

22 Jan

A beautifully written and stunningly heartfelt tribute to Chip, from dear friend Brooke (with some pretty awesome pictures!) that we wanted to share this morning: Miles Back Home

This post is to be treasured.

From Brooke’s blog, The Conley Chronicles:

Just keep posting pictures of that boy. 

I couldn’t have guessed that such a simple text would in hindsight mean so much.

We had been talking all week while he lay in a hospital bed. He sent me a breathing tube selfie and I ribbed back, “Try to get some sleep with that thing on your face.” 

It was our normal banter and I never wanted to believe it would end. We laughed and we joked. We occasionally took the serious route.

Can I do anything from here?

Just keep posting pictures of that boy.

And then it was over.

Perhaps I did know that these seemingly basic interludes would one day take on greater meaning. Somewhere deep down I must have, because for the past two years I have been unwittingly creating a virtual memory vault filled with texts, photos, and voicemails that I could never bring myself to erase.

Bayard Winslow Kennett II – aka Chip (Chippewa as I liked to call him) – was one of the greatest people I have ever known. I met him at the ripe old age of 22, back when we both lived in Washington, DC and worked in the same congressional building on Capitol Hill. Every week day was spent IMing back and forth about the best bars in town and every weekend was spent exploring them.

I’ve written about Chip and his beautiful wife, Sheila, before in my post Get on Board. Team Kennett – as their family of four has come to be known – have been an inspiration to so many as they focused on being present and grateful after Chip’s 2012 diagnosis of Stage IV lung cancer.

The above words were our last correspondence just hours before he passed away.

Continue reading on The Conley Chronicles: Miles Back Home
Screen Shot 2015-01-22 at 7.48.27 AM

brooke and chip

(You might remember that we wrote about the Conleys back in February 2014, in the post How to Train a Train.)

miles with chip