“Mentoring,” Vice Provost Anne Birberick said, “is deeply tied to student career success.” To advance…
Greer Bond melted – then crushed – the heart of Christina Monson.
The 2-year-old girl, who lives in Dixon, Ill., with her parents and her 5-year-old sister, Harlow, has leukemia.
Much of Greer’s world exists only in hospital rooms and long car rides back and forth from her home in Lee County to the medical facility in Chicago. One of her hospital stays extended four months, a sadly large portion of her still-short life.
Bills, of course, are staggering and mounting – and not just for health care, of course, but for gasoline, tolls, food and more.
“I heard her story, and it just pulled on my heartstrings,” says Monson, a junior with a double major in corporate communication and Community Leadership and Civic Engagement and a minor in social entrepreneurship.
“She might not even live long enough to find what she’s passionate about,” Monson adds. “It broke my heart, and I wanted to do something.”
What she chose – a Leukemia Lemon Challenge, which aims to harness the power of social media in a fundraising campaign similar to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge – is only part of the story, however.
Her call to action, and her concern about Greer’s dreams and passions, are deeply personal.
Monson, who grew up in Albert Lea, Minn., came to NIU in 2013 to run track and cross-country for the Huskies. The speedster ran the mile and the two-mile in high school, and is proud to have won the Minnesota state championship in the mile.
“Running is just something I love. It’s just fun to race and compete. There’s a thrill about it,” she says. “I was raised in sports. I was raised in a competitive setting. I loved the people. I loved the mentality. I loved the competition. I loved everything about it.”
Not long after she arrived at NIU, however, something felt wrong.
“I came in and got sick pretty quick. I actually tried racing my first race, and it was horrible. It was just evident that my body was shutting down in different ways,” Monson says. “They didn’t know what was going on for so long, which was kind of scary.”
Finally, after another 18 months of unexplainable and intense fatigue, stomach pain, seizures and memory loss, she received a terrible diagnosis. Lyme disease.
Doctors suspect that Monson became infected with the incurable illness during her sophomore year in high school but that it remained dormant until she began college, when she left her home and family for a campus two states away: “Any stress, or change in environment, can make it come out.”
“I went to Mayo after my freshman year. I lived up there all summer,” she says. “I saw like 18 different doctors. They tried to check me but couldn’t figure anything out. I did a test for Lyme disease, but it only has a 22 percent accuracy.”
The telltale sign – a red, bullseye rash – only appears in 30 percent of patients. Monson is not one of them.
At this time last year, she spent her spring break in Missouri meeting with a Lyme specialist who ran a full panel of tests and confirmed the diagnosis. A few weeks ago, she and her father made the drive back to visit that physician again, still searching for answers and hope.
“Lyme disease is tricky. It spirals into your muscles or joints gradually, and eventually can go into your brain,” she says.
“That’s the biggest thing I’ve had trouble with. It’s passed the brain barrier,” she adds. “Last semester, I had to miss class for about three weeks, go back and get a manual brain manipulation done in order for them to help with that. I’ve had seizures, memory loss – scary things.”
Managing the disease is like riding a roller coaster.
“As you treat Lyme, a lot of toxins are released in the process. That’s what my body just cannot take. It just puts me out. It’s just horrible. I’m just physically too weak to get out of bed. My normal bodily functions are not functioning,” Monson says.
“I might have a month period where I’ll feel good. I’m up and down,” she adds. “Positivity is one of the things that helps get me through. Staying positive, enjoying what I have and praying are honestly how I get through it.”
“It’s been really hard for me losing my sport and not being able to run anymore, but then I saw this little girl and the health condition she was facing,” she says.
“When I’m going through things, like doctor’s appointments or medical things I have to go to, I can get frustrated with it easily or have a negative outlook,” she adds, “but for this little girl, this is all she knows. She’s never experienced anything else. The strength she has going through these treatments is really admirable.”
Monson met Greer though Adrian Myers, the new head coach of the NIU women’s cross country team. (Although Monson is medically unable to compete, she remains on the roster.)
The Huskie coach is a close friend of the Bond family; dad Kel Bond is head coach of the boys’ track and field team at Dixon High School, where mom Courtney Bond is the certified athletic trainer.
Once Monson latched onto the fruit-tasting/fundraising concept, she enlisted Harlow Bond as a co-star in the YouTube video – and bit into a lemon for the camera.
“It was so sour!” Monson says. “But it was so funny, because I was trying to get Harlow to try one. It was so sour, but I was trying not to make a face. I kept saying, ‘If I do it, will you do it?’ and ‘Mmm, it’s so good. You definitely should try it.’ She did well.”
Monson wants not only to raise $100,000 for the Bond family but to boost awareness of leukemia and other childhood cancers. She also hopes the campaign will connect families in similar situations to build a greater support system.
Dollars raised beyond $100,000 will go to CureSearch for Children’s Cancer, a national non-profit foundation that accelerates the search for cures for children’s cancer by driving innovation, transcending research barriers and solving the field’s most challenging problems.
“Knowing Christina’s strong Christian values, and her dedication to making the world a better place, I’m not surprised at all that she would start a movement for the benefit of Greer,” Barsema says. “This is consistent with her work with Athletes in Action and as an NIU student-athlete.”
Barsema isn’t alone in his praise.
“Everyone’s really excited about it. I’ve gotten positive remarks,” Monson says. “A lot of people have just kind of told me that, in a way, they’re inspired by me because I’m going through so much, and they’ve seen what my health condition has taken away from me. But I want to give back and focus on someone else. I want to put my energy into that.”