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EL DORADO COUNTY, Calif. (KTXL) — One cancer diagnosis is overwhelming. Three would be almost unbelievable.

But that’s what Judy Pickett has stared down while raising three kids and sending dozens of others to college.

“The first time it came back, it was devastating because it was only 18 months, really. It wasn’t a full two years. And I just never thought I would face this again,” Pickett recalled. “It was what it was. I went through it. But, the third time it came back — the second time, the third time I had it — I just felt like OK, this is it. We need to do whatever we can. I don’t want to do this anymore.”

Pickett has a way of finding solutions for herself and others.

A trained chemist and biologist, she left the lab to become a physical education teacher and running coach, helping kids learn the most elusive of lessons: how to believe in themselves.

“That’s the creme de la creme,” Pickett said. “But, just the fact of kids seeing success, their own success that they didn’t even realize they had in them, it’s just the best.”

Having cancer with 7-year-old, 4-year-old and infant sons at home made her realize what she had in her.

Pickett first set an individual goal of running, something she’d always loved, as a way to raise money for and to educate others about the disease that tried to take her life.

“Currently, I’ve run 158 races around the country benefiting breast cancer, and just it’s been incredible. I’ve run with over 225,000 survivors, which has been great, and I think I’m up to 2.2 million participants. It’s just been phenomenal,” Pickett shared.

Those races, awards and chances to raise awareness about breast cancer have been all over the country, and they put her in step with the desire to do something right where she lives and teaches in El Dorado County.

Pickett raises money for kids whose families are confronting cancer, so those kids don’t have to give up their college dreams. 

That desire to help turned into the Pink Ribbon Scholarship.

“The whole family’s affected when someone’s diagnosed with cancer. I wanted to do something,” Pickett explained. “I thought, well, at least I can help a little bit and help these students as they’re heading out the door, to help the families with just a little bit of support.”

That little bit has amounted to almost $134,000 worth of scholarships doled out to eight area students a year, $1,000 at a time.

While that has shown her purpose in the pain she suffered repeatedly battling cancer. For Pickett, something else put an even finer point on the question every cancer patient asks: Why?

“So when my youngest son was 16, he broke his neck in an accident, a diving accident. It was really hard. It was hard for all of us. It was hard for him.” Pickett explained. “And one of the things he said to me in the hospital when he couldn’t’ move was, ‘Mom, I could do this because you did it. I can get through this.’”

“And, I thought, that’s why I had cancer. Because I needed to be strong for my children so in their life when it took a turn, they could be strong. And they could believe in themselves and know they could get through anything,” she said.