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Home Cervical Cancer Cervical Cancer A Woman's Work: Michele Baldwin and the Amazing Starry Ganga Expedition

A Woman's Work: Michele Baldwin and the Amazing Starry Ganga Expedition

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Imagine trekking 700 long, punishing miles. Consider doing it on water while clutching an oar and standing astride a snub-nosed version of a surfboard. Now, make this journey in five weeks or less. Oh, and pull it all off while coping with terminal cancer.

Michele Baldwin, a 44-year old single mother of three, was diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2009. Despite radiation and chemotherapy, she learned this past summer the cancer has come back in an aggressive, untreatable form. Faced with an early twilight to her life - but refusing to let cancer dictate how she'll live the time that remains- she decided to create the Starry Ganga Expedition: Michele Baldwin’s Living Memorial. On this amazing pilgrimage Michele will "Stand Up Paddle" the Ganga River (often referred to as the Ganges) in India.

Why India? “I began my lifelong interest in other cultures in India at 19," says Michele, a Buddhist. “Now I would like to return for a final trip to bring an awareness of a cervical cancer that is preventable, treatable and if caught early enough, curable. I would like to leave a legacy for my own children and for women and girls in India.”

An astonishing 27% of the world's cervical cancer deaths occur in India. Cervical cancer is largely preventable through regular screening, which has traditionally meant Pap tests. Newer technologies, such as HPV tests and vaccines, give us even more tools to prevent this miserable disease. It’s rare for a woman who goes for regular check-ups to develop cervical cancer, which makes the fact it ever occurs all the more heartbreaking.

Cervical cancer is most often found in women who have either never had a Pap test or have gone many years without one. And just why is it that not all women go for regular Paps?

Access to health care is one issue, and this is especially vexing in developing nations that lack the infrastructure needed for widespread Pap and vaccination programs. More mundane but important things like transportation, child care, and taking time away from work can hinder access, too. Embarrassment and taboos against women being examined “down there” can also be a barrier.

To be sure, there are many worthy efforts underway to bring life-saving screening tests and vaccines to the women who need them most, such as the Global Initiative Against HPV and Cervical Cancer (GIAHC) launched in 2010 by physician Dr. Shobha Krishnan. One of the Living Memorial’s goals is raising $100,000 to fund prevention programs in India through GIAHC.

ASHA is a proud partner and supporter of both the Starry Ganga Expedition: Michele Baldwin’s Living Memorial and GIAHC. Marveling at the sheer scope of the Expedition, ASHA CEO Lynn Barclay says of Michele Baldwin “Michele's strength is awesome, her dignity humbling. Her living memorial will impact countless women that she'll never know. Her simple, powerful grace is a beacon for women and families everywhere.”

Reflecting on her upcoming journey, Michele says “It would be an epic trip, my final act, encompassing a great sporting feat, a spiritual journey, and a platform to bring awareness to the evils of cervical cancer, which kills 74,000 women a year in India.” To learn more or donate to the Michele Baldwin Living Memorial visit the GIAHC website: GIAHC .