MICHELE Age 45, mother of three, traveler, adventurer, and courageous public advocate for the prevention of cervical cancer, died of the disease on February 5, 2012, at her home in Albuquerque. Baldwin's Starry Ganga expedition standup paddle boarding 700 miles down the Ganges River in India Oct. 18-Nov. 24, 2011, during the final stages of her illness, inspired women worldwide. It brought international accolades (including an Oct. 9 front-page Albuquerque Journal feature). Her expedition website, starryganga.com, chronicles the journey and gives her candid first-person accounts of her cancer and her determination to bring some good from it. After getting her final diagnosis last June, she organized the expedition to raise money for and bring awareness of cervical cancer and its preventability through Pap tests and the HPV vaccine. With her courage, strength, and dedication in carrying out such a difficult challenge while suffering from terminal cancer, Michele inspired women everywhere. She hoped her pilgrimage would save lives and help end the disease. "I would like to leave a legacy for my own children and for girls and women in India," she said. "I want to inspire others to be fearless. . . .Do your own dreams, reach further than you thought possible, help more than you imagine you are able." Also, through her forthright Buddhist acceptance of death, she sought to set an example of not only how to live but how to die. She taught herself standup paddle boarding in August 2011 after doctors at the UNM Cancer Center found that her metastatic disease had spread to the point that no more treatments were possible. (She had previously undergone two rounds of surgery and chemotherapy/radiation.) She then found that while paddle boarding on the river her pain temporarily went away. Although a newcomer to the sport, Michele quickly became a hero to the paddle boarding community and now holds the world record for greatest distance ever paddle boarded by a woman. From an early age she loved swimming and other water sports. This served her well on the Ganga where she started on high-water rapids at the foot of the Himalayas and later not only paddle boarded for hours but also swam every day. In recent years Michele was a realtor in Albuquerque; a ski-lift operator and whitewater raft guide in Crested Butte, CO, from 2006-2009; and an emergency medical technician and student at the Emergency Medical Services Academy of UNM Medical School. She continued her studies as long as she could as her cervical cancer advanced. When she had to leave, returning a full scholarship, the school gave her a special Michele Baldwin Award, "for outstanding determination through times both difficult and joyful" and "for never failing to touch the lives of others, despite the inner turmoil thundering within." Michele Lenore Frazier was born Oct. 6, 1966, in Alexandria, VA. Her parents, Ken and Ruth Frazier, Colorado natives, then worked in Washington, DC. She went to elementary school in Northwest Washington before her family moved to Albuquerque in the mid 1970s. She graduated from Eldorado High School in 1984 and attended the University of Colorado for one year and later UNM's nursing school for three years. At 19 she traveled alone to India, living six months among its varied cultures and working with Mother Teresa. The trip began a lifelong love of India and its culture. At 23, she again traveled through India and Pakistan, partly alone and partly with her fiance, Carter Grotbeck. She trekked to the base camp of K-2 and helped deliver babies at the Afghan Women's Gynecological Hospital in Peshawar. Later they trekked in Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego. In 1996 she and a woman friend went through China to Tibet, where they trekked on the high Tibetan Plateau on a pilgrimage to Mount Kailash. In early 2011, after her final round of treatments, Michele took her daughter Audrey from school and they lived for five weeks in Morocco, Spain, and Italy. Early on in her travels she became a practicing Buddhist. Its gentle teachings strongly influenced her. With her lively spirit, gritty determination, and humor she usually persevered over adversity. She wanted to work as a paramedic in international disaster situations. When cancer interfered she used her inspiring gift for clarity of thought and expression about preventing cervical cancer and also about the processes of death and dying. During her Starry Ganga expedition, cancer physicians invited her to speak at the India Medical Association in Varanasi and to medical groups in Agra and Delhi. Baldwin is survived by her parents, her three children, Tenzin Beck, Alexander Kailash Beck, and Audrey Baldwin, and her brother Christopher Frazier, all of Albuquerque; numerous nieces and nephews; former husbands Carter Grotbeck and Joaquin Baldwin, of Albuquerque; and a host of close friends, including Lisa Guerin, Denise Young, and Jackie Kypta who attended to her in her final days. She leaves a proud legacy of courage, determination, and grace in the face of adversity. Her story will be told in a TV documentary about women with cervical cancer being made by filmmaker Frederic Lumiere, "Anyone's Daughter: The HPV Epidemic." It will use video footage from her expedition and interviews he conducted with Michele and her family in Albuquerque during her final weeks. Her constant message: Live your lives fearlessly, and wisely. Get pap smears. Get the HPV vaccine. No one else need die of this disease. Donations may be made to the Michele Baldwin Living Memorial of the Global Initiative Against HPV and Cervical Cancer (giahc.com). She was cremated in Buddhist ceremonies at the Crestone End of Life Project open-air cremation site in Crestone, CO, Feb. 7. A celebration of Michele's life will be held at the UNM Alumni Chapel, 2-4 p.m., Sunday, Feb. 12.
Published on: Thu February 09, 2012