AMBITIOUS FROM THE START
The only child of single mom and public school teacher Debbie Ziegler, Brittany Maynard – who chose to end her own life on Nov. 1 after battling a terminal brain tumor – grew up in Orange County, California, wanting to “excel at everything she tried,” Ziegler told PEOPLE. A natural athlete and stellar student (she once called her mother, upset, after getting her first B at the University of California, Berkeley), she also focused on helping the less fortunate.
After earning a master’s in education from the University of California, Irvine, Maynard fed her love of adventure by going to Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Singapore and Thailand. But it wasn’t just about jet-setting and having fun; the recent graduate also donated her time by teaching at orphanages in Kathmandu, Nepal. “She was always very driven to give back to the world,” Ziegler said.
DO-GOODER WITHOUT BORDERS
In addition to teaching in Asia, she also volunteered in Latin America (here, she’s seen helping children in Costa Rica). Maynard kept missions local, too, though, delivering meals on wheels to those in need, her mother said, adding that she logged hours “at a place where homeless people came in and could use this area to sleep.”
MEETING HER MATCH
Daniel Diaz came into Maynard’s life in San Francisco in 2007, and the two were married nearby in Sonoma Valley in 2012. At the time of her diagnosis – New Year’s Day of 2014 – the couple had been trying to start a family. A few weeks before her death, Maynard said in a video, “I hope he moves on and becomes a father. There’s no part of me that wants him to live out the rest of his life just missing his wife.”
Maynard brought out Diaz’s adventurous side, and she suggested Patagonia – a remote destination at the southern tip of South America – for their honeymoon. “It was the best of both worlds,” Diaz, 43, recalled. “We’d go out to glaciers, go see nature, go for a hike and then come back and get pampered.”
TRAVEL & LEISURE
Beyond the honeymoon and the volunteer work, Maynard’s healthier days saw her in Southeast Asia and on Mount Kilimanjaro among other far-flung locations. And in her final months, travel became even more important. She went to Yellowstone National Park with her husband, kayaked up to the glaciers in Alaska with her best friend and met her mom in Juneau for a boat trip.
HER FINAL DAYS WITH FAMILY
In the weeks before her death, Maynard checked additional items off of her bucket list, including a trip to the Grand Canyon with her mom, husband and stepdad Gary Holmes. “The Canyon was breathtakingly beautiful and I was able to enjoy my time with the two things I love most: my family and nature,” she wrote, but added, “it is impossible to forget my cancer. Severe headaches and neck pain are never far away, and unfortunately the next morning I had my worst seizure thus far.”