Michele Baldwin, HPV Awareness Activist, Succumbs to Cervical Cancer but Leaves Legacy

15 Feb

Michele Baldwin (1966–2012)

Michele Baldwin, a passionate HPV and cervical cancer awareness activist, succumbed to the disease she fought so long and hard against on February 5, 2012, at the age of forty-five. Her father, Skeptical Inquirer editor Ken Frazier, wrote a beautiful obituary for Michele in the Albuquerque Journal.

Michele had already gone through two extensive rounds of treatment, one in the fall of 2009 and another one year later in the fall of 2010. Both rounds included a surgery—one of which was experimental. In the summer of 2011, the cancer once again returned, and this time the news was worse than ever: it was inoperable, and Michele had run out of treatment options. She was given less than a year to live.

Michele on the Ganges River in India (credit: http://www.starryganga.com)

Michele, a lover of water sports, threw herself into being a kayak guide. She realized that during her long hours on the water she was able to go for long stretches without thinking about cancer. It was then that she had the idea that would become her life’s work and legacy: she would stand-up paddleboard, a sport she had only just taken up in August 2011, seven hundred miles down the Ganges River in India for HPV and cervical cancer awareness. The journey began on October 18 in the Himalayan rapids of Rishikesh and ended on November 24 in the city of Varanasi. Michele set a world record for greatest distance ever paddleboarded by a woman and earned international press for HPV/cervical cancer awareness with her project, the Starry Ganga Expedition. She did it to save the lives of others; to make sure that other women wouldn’t have to suffer her same fate.

In a world in which we have politicians like Michelle Bachmann spreading misinformation about a vaccine that can literally save lives by preventing certain forms of cervical cancer, we need more people like Michele Baldwin who are willing to advocate for the HPV vaccine’s use. Michele made it her final mission in life to help the fight to stop this horrible disease. Her battle underscores the importance of getting this vaccine to women worldwide regardless of religiously based moral convictions.

Michele’s legacy will continue to bring awareness to the importance of HPV vaccination. Her entire journey down the Ganges was filmed by biographer Nat Stone and will be turned into a documentary by director/producer Mahmoud Salimi. Her’s is also the central story in Frederic Lumiere’s forthcoming television documentary, Anyone’s Daughter: The HPV Epidemic. Michele set up a living memorial to raise funds for cervical cancer/HPV awareness. Donations can be made through the Global Initiative Against HPV and Cervical Cancer.

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5 Responses to “Michele Baldwin, HPV Awareness Activist, Succumbs to Cervical Cancer but Leaves Legacy”

  1. Ben Radford February 17, 2012 at 2:32 pm #

    Great piece, Julia!

    I only met Michele once, but I learned a lot about her through Ken. I had gotten my HPV vaccination (my out of pocket cost: $600) a few months before I heard about Michele’s diagnosis, and she was delighted when her parents told her about it. Her mom Ruth told me that during her talks at stops along the Ganges and elsewhere teaching people about HPV, Michele used me as an example of how men can–and should–be vaccinated as well as women. I’m proud to have been a tiny part of her journey and educational outreach. What a strong, amazing woman!

    • Ri DeCarlo February 18, 2012 at 5:14 am #

      I’m thinking that ‘Gardisil’ vaccination they want to give young girls and boys is a good idea. My sister got my 15 year old nephew the shot. They said it prevent throat cancer from HPV too. Maybe we all need the shot. Peace to Michelle and her family.

  2. Betty Supple February 25, 2012 at 2:26 pm #

    I met Michelle at a meditation retreat in December and we (my bandmates and I) sang her songs in her room interspersed with stories of India and her life. I love her. I’m so blessed to have met and connected wit such an inspiring, wild, being of light. She was saying how you can learn the Dharma by watching Sesame street; it’s all there. . . Love to her family and friends.

    • Julia Lavarnway February 25, 2012 at 10:15 pm #

      I’m a little jealous you got to meet Michele. I never actually met her, although I heard so much about her from her father, Ken (my editor), that I almost feel like I have. She was truly amazing, and I have been so inspired by her entire journey.

  3. Anonymous October 27, 2014 at 4:32 pm #

    although I did not meet Michele I go to school with her daughter Audrey and I can tell she was an amazing mother I wish her family well

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