Grace and Grit: Spirituality and Healing in the Life and Death of Treya Killam Wilber  tells the story of the years in which Treya and Ken fought the aggressive, metastasizing cancer which kept recurring. The emotional toll the disease took from both their lives is documented in the book, which includes much of Treya’s personal journals and Ken’s commentary. Treya’s journey, the integrity and courage with she lived, continues to inspire. A few months before she died, her body riddled with tumors, her head covered by a pink scarf, she spoke at a conference. You can see the video of the speech here.
Treya was born Terry Killam in 1946 in south Texas. She writes that she was a high achiever, but constantly retreating to her room to read. She got an M.A. in English, but then veered off toward environmental causes, teaching and skiing in Colorado. She spent three years at Findhorn, a spiritual community in Scotland, leaving to help found a similar foundation in Colorado: Windstar, outside of Aspen. She went back to school at California Institute of Integral Studies in San Francisco, studying psychology and East/West philosophies. Friends introduced her to Ken Wilber, a writer and theorist in the new field of transpersonal psychology.
Once married, Treya and Ken bought a house in Incline Village, but there, their partnership fell apart. Ken had given up his own work to support Treya and became ill with a mysterious disease. Though intensively investigating and practicing alternative and holistic treatments, Trey had a recurrence of tumors, chemotherapy and then diabetes. Living between the hope of being cured and having a child, and the brutal recurrences of cancer, they both broke down.
The Wilbers moved back to the Bay Area, and then to Boulder, where Treya was able to have nine months without recurrences. Her intensive work led her to what she thought of as an inner shift, however. Treya had always felt her issues revolved around the pressures of doing rather than just being. She tried to find her way back to “the simple pleasure of being and making, not knowing and doing. It feels like coming home!” She said, “Immediately it came up for me. To stop trying to be a man. To stop calling myself Terry. To become Treya.”
Both Treya and Ken Wilber found themselves in positions in which people without cancer did not know how to react to them. Some “new age” people at this time assumed that people created their own cancers. Treya helped found a Cancer Support Community which didn’t punish people who didn’t get better, but who were deeply involved in their lives and only incidentally in their cancers. She wrote a paper on “What Kind of Help Really Helps,” which was published in the Journal of Transpersonal Psychology. Ken published a paper in the Journal on how it felt to be a support person, also very difficult.
Treya and Ken went to Bonn, Germany, to try a very aggressive chemotherapy, but it failed to stop tumor growth. They also tried an enzyme therapy with inconclusive results. By this time, Treya believed her cancer could not be arrested by anything. It had metastasized to her brain and lungs. She continued with her intensive therapies, without using pain medication and continued writing as honestly as possible in her journals. She did steroids and eventually surgery to reduce the brain tumors and was on oxygen. In January, 1989, she decided to stop. She wrote one last entry in her journal, “It takes grace, yes – and grit!”
Ken had always told Treya that he had been searching for her for lifetimes, that if anything happened, he would find her again. “You promise?” she asked him again and again. Ken promised. He carried her upstairs, she lay down in bed and within two days, surrounded by friends and family, she passed away.