Archive for Wednesday, March 28, 2001

Light Center offers alternative healing

March 28, 2001

"If you had told me six years ago that I would be teaching complementary and alternate medicine (CAM) at the University of Missouri in Kansas City (UMKC)," said Robin Goff, "I'd have laughed at you."

Goff has a B.S. in nursing, and is on the affiliated faculty with the School of Nursing at UMKC. She was a Hospice chaplain for 10 years, most recently at Midland in Ottawa, and was president of the Ottawa Ministerial Association. Now she is a member of the Baldwin Chamber of Commerce.

The founder of The Light Center, a nonprofit facility southwest of Worden, Goff has created a sacred space for healing. The center offers healing retreats for individuals and groups on the 32-acre site. There is a sweat lodge, camping area, paths for walking, a creek, and later this spring she'll build a labyrinth.

The center offers workshops almost every weekend.

"Groups can have an intensive, one-day experience or spend the weekend," she said.

In addition to the gathering room a large space with floor pillows and comfortable sofas and chairs the center has a complete kitchen, large dining area and two bedrooms on the first level. Upstairs is a gathering space, which can even accommodate family reunions and other private meetings.

Currently, the center is focusing on continuing education for nurses and other healthcare professionals. But it's also adding healing retreats for people with cancer.

"I imagine we'll be offering all kinds of healing retreats," said Goff, "for people trying to stop smoking or dealing with grief and loss or dealing with different kinds of illnesses."

Alternative therapies, such as acupuncture, herbal remedies, therapeutic massage, and traditional oriental medicine, have been around a long time. But when Goff entered the field of nursing more than 30 years ago, CAM was not in the mainstream medical model.

Then in 1992, the federal government opened an Office of Alternative Medicine (OAM) within the National Institutes of Health. The purpose of the OAM was to investigate the claims of alternative medicines in a scientific manner and inform the public about what it found. By 1998, Congress had mandated the creation of a separate organization to investigate CAM claims and to fund research and education in complementary and alternative medicine. Thus the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) was born.

Goff is currently waiting for NCCAM to approve a grant. If the grant is approved, she will provide CAM education in the UMKC schools of dentistry, pharmacy, nursing and medicine.

"NCCAM is putting a lot of money into speeding up the education of healthcare professionals about complementary and alternative medicine," she said.

When OAM first started in 1992 its budget was only $2 million. By 1998 NCCAM's budget was $68.7 million. According to the NIH web site (http//nccam.nih.gov), this increase in funding "reflects the public's growing need for CAM information that is based on rigorous scientific research."

In fact, NIH information indicates that the public is interested in CAM in a big way:

Americans spent more than $27 billion (with a "b") on these alternative therapies in 1997. This exceeded out-of-pocket spending for all U.S. hospitalizations. People use CAM for two reasons: They are dissatisfied with conventional medicine, and because these healthcare alternatives mirror their own values, beliefs and philosophical orientations toward health and life.

More than 60 percent of doctors from a wide range of specialties recommended alternative therapies to their patients, according to a 1994 study, and 47 percent of the doctors reported using these therapies themselves.

As of 1998, 75 out of 117 U.S. medical schools (64 percent) offered elective courses in CAM or included CAM topics in required courses.

Those interested in contacting The Light Center about its programs or to volunteer services, should call (785) 255-4583 or send an e-mail to ltcenter@grapevine.net or check out the web page at http//come.to/thelightcenter for a list of events.

Going Upstream

Goff worked her way into holistic medicine, another name for CAM, because it considers the whole person, including physical, mental, emotional and spiritual aspects.

"I feel that my background has been preparing me to do this kind of work," she said. Both of her parents have been through cancer: her mother 30 years ago and her father recently.

"My mom's experience was pretty traumatic," she said. "She weighed 80 pounds, and the doctors wouldn't stop treating her. So her only way of saying 'enough, let me go!' was to take care of it herself. She jumped out of the window of her hospital room."

Even though her mother had prepared Goff for such a drastic solution, it still came as a shock. And for a young woman, only a few years out of nursing school, it was a life-changing event.

"There had to be a better way of dealing with advanced cancers," she said, "And I was going to find out what that was." She began studying about grief and loss, death and dying.

Goff was disillusioned with nursing, and one day while living in San Francisco, she saw a newspaper article about a Master of Arts in Values. It was offered by the San Francisco Theological Seminary, a mainstream Presbyterian institution. The program prepared "change agents," she said, and she knew she had to take the course.

"That veered me into broadening from just the physical, medical model healing approach," she said, "to much more of a whole person approach, and eventually I went on to chaplaincy training at Bethany Medical Center. I worked with Hospice for 10 years as a result."

Then about six years ago she purchased a 32-acre farm and began creating The Light Center.

"There's a phrase we used in Hospice," she said, "it's called 'going upstream.' There are a some guys working at pulling dead bodies from the flowing river, and then one day one of them says, 'Sorry, I'm leaving.' The others say, 'You can't leave! Look at how much work we've got to do to pull all these dead bodies out of the river.' And the first one says, 'I'm going upstream to see who's throwing all these bodies in the river.' And that's what I did. I went upstream."

NCCAM seems to be investigating what's going on upstream also. According to the NIH web site, many of the CAM or holistic therapies are also known as preventive, meaning "the practitioner educates and treats the person to prevent health problems from arising (i.e., going upstream), rather than treating symptoms after problems have occurred. Some of these alternative medical approaches are consistent with the physiological principles of Western medicine, while others constitute healing systems with a different origin. While some therapies are far outside the realm of accepted Western medical theory and practice, others are becoming established in mainstream medicine."

As a Hospice chaplain, Goff spent hours talking to people about healing. She watched how they changed themselves.

"They taught me about healing, what that really is," she said, "as a process that can be clearly distinct from curing an illness. It might result in a cure, and it might not. They may be dying, and that may be perfect for them, for where they are. So that is what I do most of my public speaking and teaching about, that whole concept of healing and what it really is."

Field of Dreams

Goff met a man at church in Kansas City. He had a piece of land he'd grown up on, and after hearing about her dream for a healing place, he told her about his grandfather's farm.

"I had looked for a place for years and years, both in North Carolina and in Kansas, for a piece of land that would really give privacy, and it's very hard to find," she said. "Here people can come and really feel apart from their ordinary world, and feel very nestled down in this little valley and woods where they can walk, and not have other houses right on top of them or lots of road noise."

For more than 20 years she went around saying "I'm going to build a healing center," she said. "I didn't exactly know what that meant, I just knew that that was mine to do."

And as soon as she bought the land, people started showing up. A couple of independent contractors have helped her from the beginning, offering little pieces of their time free to build her dream.

"One of them is Dave Long, board president of The Light Center," she said. "They both love this place and love being here. So we've created this place without deep pockets, very grassrootsy. The wood came from a barn that blew down. The steps to the upper level of The Light Center are made from an oak tree on this land, cut by a portable mill brought on to the property. It's been a real makeshift process, very creative, but without blueprints."

Goff's in awe of the people that show up, not only from all over the United States, but from foreign countries.

"One weekend in March we had Sobonfu Somrom Africa," she said. "This is the second year she's been here. She is traveling around and teaching her tribe's ancient wisdom, because she knows that this is her life's purpose just like her husband Malidoma Somwho's written books on African wisdom)."

A lot of the center's activities are cross-cultural, as it tries to expose people to other ideas, to broaden their thinking.

"Each person is attracted to different healing ways," Goff says. "Even if your predominant way of working with your illness is conventional medicine, that doesn't preclude also working on these other things as well. We need to ask 'how can I get more relaxed so my body can function better, so my natural immune system can function better, so that my healing process in my body is enhanced?' The new term is integrative medicine, bringing it all together. That makes sense to me, accessing all the wisdom we can. And it's happening very rapidly. I think public demand is pushing it now."

When Goff began her center it was nothing more than a barn with a dirt floor and horse stalls. Complementary and alternative medicine was barely moving into the mainstream from the fringe. Now she's working with the Block Cancer Center in Kansas City and with the Cancer Institute of Health Midwest, and The Light Center has its own advisory board of doctors.

Dr. Norm Sheely, founder of the American Holistic Medical Association and a holistic center in Springfield, Mo., is on her medical advisory board. And she's on his board. For years, Dr. Sheely has explored alternative pain management. He has worked closely with author, speaker and medical intuitive Carolyn Myss.

"So here we are in this little spot in the middle of the woods making these wonderful connections with wonderful people who are leaders in the field," she said.

Truly, she's living in a field of dreams: if you build it they will come.

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