Michele Baldwin, 45, has terminal cervical cancer. Yet, the mother of three has chosen to spend her last days paddle-boarding 1,000 km down the Ganga from Rishikesh to Varanasi to spread awareness about the cervical cancer that is the number one cancer among women in India.
The resident of New Mexico, US, Balwdin has been in India since October 16 to talk about the importance of pap smear for early detection and HPV (human papillomavirus) vaccination for prevention. “No one, anywhere in the world, should die of cervical cancer,” she says.
Baldwin hopes to raise US$100,000 to support Global Initiative Against HPV. “I won’t live to see the project bear fruit but I am glad to have initiated it,”she said, visibly tired at the end of the day after her expedition.
Cervical cancer is a slow growing cancer and it is curable if diagnosed early. “After the birth of my third baby, I did not get a pap-smear done because the test cost US $200 cost (Rs 10,400) and I had no medical insurance. In India, it costs just Rs 200,”she said.
Experts recommend an annual pap-smear for women in the reproductive age. “It takes 10-20 years to turn malignant. In the early stages, the cure rate is 90%,”says Dr Shyam Agarwal, senior consultant, medical oncology at Sir Gangaram Hospital.