A life well done: Maya Angelou and her message of thriving

RIP, Maya Angelou

“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor, and some style.”

– Maya Angelou

Today we learned of the passing of Maya Angelou, an author, poet, civil rights activist and, yes, thriver. When I was in my sophomore year of college, I took a women’s literature class. It was one of my most memorable academic experiences, and my favorite work was Maya’s I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.  It’s been decades since I read it, but it inspired me to overcome the many hardships I had from my turbulent childhood. She had a horrible experience — being raped by her mother’s boyfriend, among other things — and used the experience to transform her life and the lives of millions of others.

I’ve always been drawn to and inspired by “overcomers” like Maya Angelou. It gives me hope that even the most terrible things can be conquered and used for good. Perhaps that is what led me to work on myself so I could end the cycle of abuse, addiction and depression that broke my family of origin. And it is what led me to write my first book, From Incurable to Incredible,  my upcoming book, Miracle Survivors, and to travel the country to share my story and other stories of hope.

I consider Maya one of the great teachers of all time. Her words spilled out like flowing gold. I have read many of them on Facebook and on Google today. There are a couple that have stood out for me the most:

On self-care

Here’s a quote from an article announcing the opening of her Women’s Health and Wellness Center in North Carolina: “I learned a long time ago the wisest thing I can do is be on my own side, be an advocate for myself and others like me,” she said. “If I do that well enough, then I’ll be able to look after someone else. But I have to look after myself first.  I know that some people think that’s being selfish, I think that’s being self-full.”

Wow, I love the concept of being self-full! It’s not being full of yourself; it’s taking care of yourself first so you can be around to help others. I think women in general have a hard time with this … even after having cancer. I have talked to many women who are nice to the point of it being detrimental to their health. They just can’t say no, and they are afraid to ask for help for their very real needs. Sometimes this means being afraid to question their care and staying with a doctor who is obviously not helping them.

For others, cancer is a wake-up call. They have learned they absolutely must advocate for their health if they want to stay alive. It doesn’t mean they aren’t nice; they have just learned to put their care and life first. It took being diagnosed with stage IV cancer to finally learn how important it was to “look after myself first.”  When I’m in a crossroads in treatment, I get second, third, fourth opinions, but the decision is always mine. If I’m feeling overwhelmed, I say no to things. And I don’t put up with people being draining, unkind or unfair. I’ll speak my mind. If it’s a toxic relationship, I’ll end it or significantly reduce contact. My health is too important.

On living life to the fullest

“Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”

I find this quote extremely comforting as I witness so many wonderful, young women and men who have died of cancer. I can never understand why, but as I look back on their lives and photos they have shared on Facebook, I can see they squeezed every moment out of their lives. They loved freely, traveled to fabulous places, embraced their families and friends, and touched so many people around them. Their lives mattered and left a permanent mark on the world.

And so it is with Maya Angelou. She certainly left her mark. Bravo, Maya, on a life well done!


  1. Facing Cancer
    Jun 2, 2014

    It is so nice to read your reflection on Maya Angelou. She is amazing, and so are you, Tami! ~Catherine

  2. Terri
    May 29, 2014

    Indeed Tami! I am overjoyed at all the many M.A. quotes from today. That woman sure lived with passion, compassion a real sense of style. I’d like to think my friends and family would say the same thing about me one day :-). May she rest in peace. And now I have to go read her book I Know Why the caged Bird sings.

  3. tamilb
    May 28, 2014

    So glad they helped you today, Martha!

  4. Martha
    May 28, 2014

    Beautiful. Thank you for sharing those inspiring quotes. I needed to hear that today.

  5. tamilb
    May 28, 2014

    Thanks Heidi! It’s another gem, isn’t it?

  6. heidi bright
    May 28, 2014

    Wonderful tribute, Tami! and I love the idea of being self-full.

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