For the last six months, every Sunday morning my alarm goes off at 5:30 a.m. It's time to run!
I grab my fuel belt, my energy chews and my Garmin watch and head out into the cool Los Angeles morning. Usually the sun is just starting to wake up as I park my car.
I stretch out with my running group, grab a swig of water and hit "start" on my watch.
A few hours later, my watch tells me that I've just run 20 miles. Wow. Even I'm impressed.
By the end, I'm exhausted, hungry and sore. But there is nothing more rewarding than knowing you've just burned 2,000 calories before most people have had their morning coffee.
I am amazed at what my body can do because 10 years ago, walking down a flight of stairs was impossible.
In January 2000, I was a 16-year-old junior at Haverhill High School.
I had just finished a great season of field hockey and was looking forward to spring. I would be getting my license soon, I was taking AP classes and college applications were right around the corner. Life as a teenager was perfect — until my family received the devastating news that a pesky little bump on my scalp turned out to be non-Hodgkin's lymphoma.
As an otherwise healthy girl, I couldn't believe this was happening to me.
The following year was filled with weekly chemotherapy appointments in the Jimmy Fund Clinic at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.
As any cancer patient will tell you, often times the medicine's side-effects are worse than the symptoms of the disease itself. My weekly cocktail of cancer-killing drugs made my joints so sore I couldn't bend my legs. And another operation caused one of my lungs to collapse. At worse they were functioning at 40 percent capacity.
Fortunately, exactly one year after it all started, the cancer was gone and life was back to normal.
I decided to follow my dream and attend Emerson College in Boston to pursue a career in television. I graduated in 3 1/2 years and, in 2004, moved to Los Angeles with my then boyfriend (now husband), Irving, to find a job.
I started running in LA as a way to meet people and keep myself busy. But I found running to be so calming and fulfilling. It filled a gap in myself I didn't even know I had. I prefer to run sans ipod so that I can hear my feet hit the ground and feel my lungs fill with air. With each deep breath, I am reminded of the year they couldn't handle a flight of stairs. They are now full of air and full of life.
On April 19, I will stand at the start line of the Boston Marathon — the most respected marathon in the world and one of the most physically challenging marathon courses ever run.
Proudly, I will be running with the Dana-Farber Marathon Challenge team. To bring my decade-long remission full circle, I am celebrating by fundraising for Dana-Farber. It's a way of paying it forward to all the other patients who still need our support. I plan to use my healthy body and lungs for something bigger than myself. The money raised will support research that ultimately will help find a cure for cancer.
My entire family and most of my friends will be there on race day, cheering me on. I couldn't even have gotten to the start line without them. And I know they'll be there to get me to the finish line, too.
My parents have never seen me finish a race (I've run two full marathons and eight half marathons). I am excited to make them proud too.
For me, running the Boston Marathon is a dream 10 years in the making. I may not be the fastest runner in the pack, but when I get my medal at the end, I will feel like I won.
If you'd like to support me, please visit www.rundfmc.org/2010/kelleyl to make a donation. And make sure to cheer loudly as I run by on race day.
About Kelley (Coco) Last
Family: Joe and Cathy Coco; siblings Mikaela and Laurie Coco. All still live in the Haverhill area.
Years in Haverhill: 18
College attended: Emerson
Currently resides in: Los Angeles
Husband: Irving Last, married on July 11, 2009 in New Hampshire
Work: The Hallmark Channel
Running: Helped found the Los Angeles Racers running team; logged more than 275 miles training for the Boston Marathon; records runs and everyday adventures on blog www.kelocity.com
Fundraising goal: $6,000 for the Jimmy Fund of the Dana-Farber Cancer Center; www.rundfmc.org/2010/kelleyl