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Cancer Survivor Runs For Life

The word "amazing" doesn't even begin to describe Judy Pickett, according to CBS News Correspondent Tracy Smith.

The latest The Early Show American Hero is a breast cancer survivor who has run in 95 "Race for the Cure" events to demonstrate that cancer victims can survive and thrive.

It seems that Pickett is running for her life. But in her mind, she's also running for the lives of many others.

In a world where victories are often measured in points scored or money earned, Pickett is a winner every time she looks down the road and breaks into a run.

Her life was never perfect, but it was close: Judy Pickett grew up tall, beautiful and athletic. In 1986, she married Tod, the love of her life, and, within a decade, their family included three boys. In November 1996, Pickett was teaching high school science and more than a dozen aerobics classes a week. She was busy, happy and healthy. What she didn't know was that she was under attack.

"On Thanksgiving Day, we were having a holiday dinner and I had an itchy armpit and when I scratched my armpit I found a lump up in my armpit and I knew that it wasn't supposed to be there," says Pickett.

Her discovery led to testing and a grim diagnosis.

"After my biopsy, my doctor called me at home, and I was home all alone, and he told me I had edema carcinoma," remembers Pickett. "I didn't know what he meant. And it was utter disbelief is what it was. I was fine until my husband came home and I told him. And, we both started crying and it was very scary. It was very emotional, but we knew we had to fight this head on and learn everything we could and find the best way to get rid of it."

Pickett fought back – first, with surgery and, later, chemotherapy. When she regained her strength, Pickett entered her first race for the cure. The experience left her feeling so good -- so alive -- that she decided to keep running.

Her goal: to run 100 races in five years. Her message: hope for cancer survivors. But, her own faith was to be tested. In 1999, the cancer came back.

Pickett asked herself, "'How can this be happening again?' I thought I'd never have to go through this again."

She was down, but not done. Eight weeks after surgery, Pickett was on the road, running for her life. But there were more hurdles. In 2001, just when she thought she'd beaten the disease, it came back yet again.

"It's very difficult to go through it again because you don't want to revisit it," she says. "You think it's over and done with, but that's the reality of this disease. There is no cure for breast cancer -- bottom line."

Pickett kept running through chemotherapy. She even carried the Olympic torch.

"Two years ago when I ran in West Palm Beach, I had no hair and I did win that race," says Pickett. "It wasn't easy. I was going through treatment but I think it inspired a lot of people -- I hope."

The day after CBS News Correspondent Tracy Smith interviewed Pickett, the mom and wife attempted to inspire even more people by running her 95th race.

On a rainy Saturday morning last month, the West Palm Beach "Race for the Cure" drew close to 16,000 runners. During her warm-up, Pickett looked to be in top form. Only her pink cap identified her as a cancer survivor. The rest of the field was somewhat less distinguished.

Pickett started off at a pace that would challenge even the most dedicated runner. And five kilometers later, she came across the finish line, winning the survivor division. The rest of the field kind of straggled in a few minutes behind.

For Judy Pickett, life is a victory: being able to run, a miracle. When fatigue and pain nearly made her quit a race in Washington, D.C, an unknown supporter pleaded with her to go just a little further and she hasn't stopped since.

Pickett expects to run her 100th race in May.