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Expressindia » Story

Rafting trainer paddles through the Ganges for cancer awareness

Pritha Chatterjee
Posted: Nov 25, 2011 at 000d hrs IST
New Delhi The river has a little bit of everything — life, death, hope... It gives a sense of overwhelming peace, that relieves me of all worries,” says 44-year-old Michelle Baldwin.
A terminally-ill cervical cancer patient, Baldwin paddled through the Ganges in a month-long “pilgrimage”, to spread awareness about the disease, that she says, is snatching her away from her three children.

With friend and filmmaker Nat Stone documenting her expedition, Michelle paddled on a four metre inflatable boat for 40 kms - from Rishikesh to Varanasi, between October 22 and November 19.

Camping at halts on her route, Michelle interacted with women, spreading her message.

Diagnosed with the disease in 2009, Michelle is being treated at the University of New Mexico hospital. A rafting trainer from New Mexico, Michelle was told the cancer had spread to other parts of her body in an aggressive form this August. Three months, and a tour of the Ganges later, Michelle says it is still difficult to narrate how the news wrecked her life.

“I was devastated. I couldn’t believe I was going to die of the only form of cancer that has a vaccine to prevent it, and that I had been silly enough to not take it,” she says.

What brought her peace, she says, is her love for water. “I gave up my college life to have a career revolving around water. I trained as a paramedic to provide emergency medical treatment for water disasters. At this time of shock, it was natural for me to turn to water for peace,” she says.

As an after thought, she decided to do her bit to ensure no other child would have to lose his/her mother to cervical cancer. “There is a screening process — the PAP smear test - to detect cancer early, and there is a vaccine to prevent it. In the time remaining, I want to tell women to act while they can,” she added.

So, she zeroed down on the country where cervical cancer is the most common cancer affecting women — India; and a nationwide vaccination policy to prevent it is was yet to be prepared.

Calling her expedition the “Starry Ganga”, Michelle got in touch with the Global Initiative Against HPV and Cervical Cancer, an NGO that promotes screening for the disease and treatment in South India for raising funds for the cause.

Now, that her Ganges tour is over, Michelle is looking for other ways to raise funds world-wide.

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