Brittany Maynard, the American who became the public face of the controversial right-to-die movement over the last few weeks, ended her own life Saturday at her home in Portland, Oregon. She was 29.
“Goodbye to all my dear friends and family that I love. Today is the day I have chosen to pass away with dignity in the face of my terminal illness, this terrible brain cancer that has taken so much from me … but would have taken so much more,” she wrote on Facebook. “The world is a beautiful place, travel has been my greatest teacher, my close friends and folks are the greatest givers. I even have a ring of support around my bed as I type … Goodbye world. Spread good energy. Pay it forward!”
Doctors told Maynard she had six months to live last spring after she was diagnosed with a likely stage 4 glioblastoma. She made headlines around the world when she announced she intended to die – under Oregon’s Death with Dignity Act – by taking a fatal dose of barbiturates, prescribed to her by a doctor, when her suffering became too great.
“My glioblastoma is going to kill me and that’s out of my control,” she told PEOPLE last month. “I’ve discussed with many experts how I would die from it and it’s a terrible, terrible way to die. So being able to choose to go with dignity is less terrifying.”
On Oct. 6, she launched an online video campaign with Compassion & Choices, an end-of-life choice advocacy organization, to fight for expanding death with dignity laws nationwide.
“For people to argue against this choice for sick people really seems evil to me,” she told PEOPLE. “They try to mix it up with suicide and that’s really unfair, because there’s not a single part of me that wants to die. But I am dying.”
A Heartbreaking Choice
Arriving at her decision was a gradual one, she said.
“It’s not a decision you make one day and you snap your fingers,” she told PEOPLE.
She said she began thinking about death with dignity in January – when she was first diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor – after coming across an article on it while researching possible treatments.
“Really, from the beginning, all the doctors said when you have a glioma you’re going to die,” she told PEOPLE. “You can just Google it. People don’t survive this disease. Not yet.”
Doctors removed as much of the tumor as they could, but it came back larger than ever two months later, she said.
After researching her options, she decided not to try chemotherapy or radiation.
“They didn’t seem to make sense for me,” she said, because of “the level of side effects I would suffer and it wouldn’t save my life. I’ve been told pretty much no matter what, I’m going to die – and treatments would extend my life but affect the quality pretty negatively.”
In June, she moved to Oregon with her husband, Dan Diaz, 43, her mother, Debbie Ziegler, 56 , and her stepfather, Gary Holmes, 72, so she could have access to the state’s Death with Dignity Act, which allows physicians to prescribe life-ending medication to certain terminally ill patients.
Maynard originally told PEOPLE she’d chosen Nov. 1 to end her life, but on Thursday she released a new video saying she might not do it that day.
“I still smile and laugh with my family and friends enough that it doesn’t seem like the right time now,” she said in the video recorded Oct. 13 and 14, “but it will come because I feel myself getting sicker; it’s happening each week.”
Her Final Months
Maynard spent the last months of her life making the most of the time she had left. She traveled to Alaska, British Colombia and Yellowstone National Park with her loved ones and explored more local attractions like Olympic National Park in Washington.
On Oct. 21, she and her family took a helicopter ride to the Grand Canyon, a place she’d been longing to see before she died.
“It was breathtakingly beautiful,” she said in a statement.
The following morning, though, she had her “worst seizure” so far, she said: “The seizure was a harsh reminder that my symptoms continue to worsen as the tumor runs its course.”
Maynard said she was deeply touched by the “outpouring of support” she got after going public with her diagnosis and her decision.
“I want to thank people for that, for the words of kindness, for the time they’ve taken in personal ways,” she told PEOPLE.
“And then beyond that, to encourage people to make a difference,” she said. “If they can relate to my story, if they agree with this issue on a philosophical level, to get out there and do what we need to do to make a change in this country.”
Maynard also talked to PEOPLE about her legacy.
“For me what matters most is the way I’m remembered by my family and my husband as a good woman who did my best to be a good wife and a good daughter,” she said.
“Beyond that, getting involved with this campaign, I hope to be making a difference here,” she said. “If I’m leaving a legacy, it’s to change this health-care policy or be a part of this change of this health care policy so it becomes available to all Americans. That would be an enormous contribution to make, even if I’m just a piece of it.”
Before she died, Maynard asked her husband and her mother if they would carry on the work she started to get death with dignity passed in every state.
“I want to work on the cause,” Ziegler told PEOPLE last month. “I have so much admiration for people who are terminally ill and just fight and fight. They are so dignified and brave. This is a different choice, but it is also brave and dignified.”
She also shared with them her hopes and dreams for their future. Upstairs in the home she shares with her family are neatly wrapped Christmas and birthday gifts for her loved ones for the next year.
“She made it clear she wants me to live a good life,” Ziegler says.
In her second video, Maynard, who is an only child, said she hoped her mother does not “break down” or “suffer from any kind of depression.”
And for Diaz, “I hope he moves on and becomes a father,” she said. “There’s no part of me that wants him to live out the rest of his life just missing his wife.”