Former Senate staffer and lung cancer survivor laces up for 5k race
© Courtesy Chip Kennett

He may not be making a mad dash during the LUNGevity Foundation’s Breathe Deep DC 5K in Washington this weekend, but to former Senate staffer Chip Kennett, the fact that he’s lacing up at all is a reason to celebrate. 

“I’m not back to running yet but I hope to get there and I’ll be able walk this 5K hopefully without any issues except maybe some chilly weather, that’s about it,” he says with a laugh.

Kennett was just 31 two years ago when he consulted a doctor about a blurry spot in his eye. While one doctor initially figured it might be a torn retina, a series of tests eventually found that Kennett — who served on the legislative staffs of Republican Sens. Judd Gregg (N.H.), John E. Sununu (N.H.) and Susan Collins (Maine) — not only had cancer in his eye, but cancerous cells in his lungs, liver, lymph nodes and bones. While he had never smoked, Kennett then found out he had stage 4 lung cancer and was told he’d have one to two years to live.

“We had a two-year-old about to be three and my wife was 35 weeks pregnant with our daughter. And so at that time I kind of went into hunker down mode and didn’t want to get involved with any causes, wear ribbons. I kind of just wanted to focus on us,” Kennett tells ITK.

After the initial shock of his devastating diagnosis wore off, the New Hampshire native began to do his research. “I started to learn more and more about just the horrifying statistics about lung cancer and the lack of funding this specific cancer receives even though it’s by far the leading killer of all cancers,” he says.

He signed up for his first walk with the LUNGevity Foundation, which works to support and educate people with lung cancer and their families and advocates for research, on a whim. Kennett credits the organization with not only helping him, but assisting his wife, Sheila, who used to work as a scheduler in Gregg’s office and as the director of scheduling and operations for Sen. Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.). The pair met while they were both on the Hill.

“Without Sheila I don’t know what the hell I’d be doing right now, if I’d even be here,” said Kennett, now 33.

Now working as a lobbyist for defense contractor Raytheon, Kennett says he’s gotten a lot of love from his crew from his Capitol Hill days, exclaiming, “The support we’ve received from our Hill friends has been amazing.”

He testified before the Senate Select Committee on Aging earlier this year about his lung cancer battle.

After suffering a “scare” in the spring, Kennett says he’s had a “really good run” with his treatments over the summer.

And the dad to four-year-old Joe, and daughter Crosby, who turns two next month, is urging supporters to join him on Sunday morning at the Washington Monument to help “bring more awareness to this disease.”

“It’s not just a smoker’s disease,” Kennett says, “It’s the deadliest form of cancer and it’s going to remain that way until we can increase awareness and funding to combat it. And we’re making great strides so we just need to continue that fight.”