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Former Miss Texas Climbs For A Cure

The Early Show: 33-year-old Suzanne Lawrence Forsberg
CBS/The Early Show
Heroism comes in many forms, some subtler than others.

In Dallas, Texas, former Miss America and now Saturday Early Show co-anchor Gretchen Carlson found a woman whose heroism rests not so much in her accomplishments (though they are tremendous) as in the spirit and dignity that enable her to make the best of life, both for herself and for everyone whose life she touches.

For the past four years, 33-year-old Suzanne Lawrence Forsberg has been fighting terminal colon cancer.

"You know Mommy's going to the hospital to get her boo-boo out of her tummy, right?" she tells her kids, MaKayla and Gareth.

She has taken countless medications, had nine surgeries, undergone intense radiation and chemotherapy treatments, all while raising her two children.

And as she goes with her husband, Chris, for yet another operation, Lawrence Forsberg is already thinking about what she can do to help others.

"Colon cancer is the second leading deaths in cancers behind lung cancer. And I was just appalled at how little medication is available to colon cancer patients," she says. "So I kept thinking, there's got to be something I can do, I have done this before. How can I get research funds?"

The answer lay in her past. In 1990, Lawrence Forsberg became Miss Texas.

But talent and beauty never guarantee an easy life. What many people didn't know is by the time she stepped on the Miss America stage, she had fought and won a seven-year battle with vaginal cancer.

She didn't win the beauty pageant but she was still victorious.

"After I was third runner-up, I did have some reporters asking me, 'Aren't you devastated you didn't win the crown?' And I said, 'Devastated? Are you kidding? I was allowed to grace the Miss America stage and be among those women and be honored. And I am alive,'" Lawrence Forsberg says.

Soon after, she began a successful career as a broadcast journalist.

But eight months into a new job at a station in Georgia, and pregnant with her second child, Lawrence Forsberg got some devastating news. Cancer had returned - this time, in her colon.

Soon she was too sick to work. She resigned and returned home to Texas.

"I went in for what I thought was going to be a routine colon resection and I woke up being told I had a year and a half to two years to live," she recalls.

Three years later, she's still here, and fighting.

"I wrote on a piece of paper one time, 'I have to live to hold my first grandchild.' I just forgot to put that my daughter can't be 16," she says with a laugh. "But, anyway, that's fine if she is. But I just told myself I have to keep going."

So Lawrence Forsberg says she started thinking about The Walk for the Cure and Race for the Cure. "And it hit me," she says. Her idea?

Climb for the Cure, climbing, hiking, and stepping up to raise money for colon cancer research and education. And almost as soon as Lawrence Forsberg got them on the phone, Gold's Gym, the world's largest chain of fitness centers, stepped up to the challenge.

"Everything we do all day long is to fight things like cancer and that from ever happening. So that's why we like to get behind stuff like this, cause this is why we are here and what we are all about," says Scott Theeringer from Gold's Gym in Dallas.

And Gold's isn't the only group to lend a hand

A network of former Miss Americas has agreed to help publicize the cause, including Lee Meriwether, Miss America 1955.

Meriwether says, alone, she feels she can't do much, "but somehow, there was a phrase used - the power of the crown. We can raise awareness just by banding together."

And the overwhelming sisterhood and support, Lawrence Forsberg says, brought her to tears. "Because I understand the weight the Miss America crown has and publicity, that's what I was going to need, being that I am a terminal patient, to get the news out there fast."

And she is. Lawrence Forsberg and her husband have been busy at work, getting Climb for the Cure off the ground, preparing to have the first fundraiser within six months. But more than the money, the climb is giving Lawrence Forsberg and her family something even more important - it's giving them another lease on life.

Lawrence Forsberg's oncologist, Dr. Leah Krekow, says, "If a patient gets a diagnosis, and goes home and just goes to bed, and doesn't get up, they die sooner. We see that commonly. "

Lawrence Forsberg has lived past her expectations, Dr. Krekow says, and moved by her efforts, she has joined the board of directors for Climb for the Cure.

"If you've got a good idea, and some people to support it, you can make a difference," notes Dr. Krekow.

A difference, not just for science, but for two little kids whose mommy has little time, but a lot to give.

"What I have to give them is my heart and my love and the legacy of this. So that they'll know that their mother didn't quit. She didn't just give up. And she tried to do something to help everyone," Lawrence Forsberg says.