Abby and the Dreamboat

A Girl with Cancer and Her 'Twilight' Weekend 

By Joe Kovac Jr.  / Originally published May 8, 2011 
On the last day of April, a dark-haired teen named Abby woke up early. She had gone to sleep late the night before aglow in Hollywood magic. It was almost as if her life had become a movie.

Beau Cabell / The Telegraph
Now it was daybreak Saturday and a dreamy span of 24 hours was about to enter its climactic act. Less than nine hours earlier, she’d had dinner with a teenage heartthrob. And oh her goshness, as she might say, on a dare and in front of said hunk, Abby nibbled on someone’s snail appetizer. It was just half a snail. Still, she tried it. She chewed and chewed and, gulp, kept the morsel down.

Now here she was on her way to meet the fellow again, to squeeze in next to him on the set of a morning newscast and do one of the coolest things a girl who has just turned 13 could ever do: squeeze in next to a 17-year-old actor and his TMZ-approved abs. Abs that on this morning were being covered up by a T-shirt with Abby’s name on it.

Oh, and did we mention that this guy is text-your-mama cute? That he plays a werewolf in the popular “Twilight” flicks? That he has, on occasion, made grown women ask him to make out with them in front of his mother? That he has a voice as soft and cuddly as the teddy bear you wish your first crush had given you?

Yes, Abigail Kristina Wilson was in her own little movie. But it wasn’t all popcorn and Jujubes. Abby has Stage 4 lung cancer.

* * *

She was diagnosed when she was 9.

It turns out you don’t have to be a smoker to get lung cancer. You can just get it and nobody can tell you why. One minute you’re a third-grader with a cough that won’t go away, and the next you’re in a doctor’s office and the doctor is stunning your folks with news that their little girl’s lungs are eaten up with tumors, informing Mommy and Daddy that you, at the very most, might survive seven years. Maybe.

Beau Cabell / The Telegraph
Forget about Abby’s cancer for a second, though. Forget that she isn’t expected to live long enough to graduate high school. Forget that every 21 days Abby goes in for doses of chemotherapy that pack three times the wallop of those that adults typically endure. Forget that when she gets home from chemo that she resists coddling and tends to herself, even though she sometimes feels like her insides have been slurped out by a tornado. Forget because, for the moment, Abby had forgotten. Well, she had and she hadn’t.

Movies can be like that. They are like that. You go in and the show starts and no matter the story line, you already know how it is going to end. You might forget for a while, but in the back of your mind you always know. It doesn't matter
if the endings are dull or inspirational or funny or thought-provoking or bummers. They all end exactly the same. They end with the credits rolling and with us getting up and leaving.

So here Abby was, in the midst of her morning, her movie, a few minutes from meeting back up with the co-star of her day. Soon she’d walk into a news studio and go on the air with Booboo Stewart, the actor she’d first hugged and ingested escargot in front of the night before.

She had on a black T-shirt with “Team Booboo” spelled out in green sequins. She and Booboo, who would be sporting a white “Abby’s Dream Walk” shirt, were about to promote the fundraiser that bore her name.

Booboo would then join her at the Dream Walk, at the running track that rings her school’s football field, where they’d pose for pictures, sign autographs. There would be cupcakes and blowup bouncy things for the chil
dren, and a few hundred or so well-wishers would hoof around the track in Abby’s honor. It would amount to a field day against cancer. Then, sometime after 1 in the afternoon, Booboo would be on his way and jet back to California.

A block or two from the TV station, Abby, from the back seat of her mother’s car, said Booboo was sweet.

“I just want him to, like, stay here,” she said. “I don’t want him to go now. ... What am I supposed to do after this?”

From the driver’s seat of an older-model BMW with “Honk If You Hate Lung Cancer” hand-painted on a side window, her mother, Tina Wilson, glanced at Abby in the rear-view mirror.

“Now,” Tina Wilson said, “you live.”

* * *

The night before, when Abby and Booboo first met, she had dug deep and successfully suppressed the urge to emit the involuntary, gorgeous-guy-meeting faux pas that she and her girlfriends at Tattnall Square Academy have dubbed the dreaded eeeep!

An eeeep! is a chickadee chirp and a hiccup compressed into a split-second yodel that shrieks forth from a teenage girl’s vocal cords when that girl comes face to face with foxy perfection.

Eeeep! avoided, Abby and Booboo signed autographs in a room at a sports-themed eatery that had been decked out in all things “Twilight.” Then they and their families went out to dinner, where Abby tried the snail and Booboo, who wouldn’t, came across as every bit the humble, all-American boy who was on location not for a shoot but, rather, for a cause.

He’d understood the delicate dynamics of his visit before leaving the West Coast.

“It’s her day,” he’d said.

* * *

Abby and Booboo said their hellos again in the TV station’s break room. The room was bustling. Someone suggested making coffee, but no one brewed any. People small-talked the glories of Walmart. “Wally World,” Abby called it.

Booboo’s mother, Renee, checked her smartphone and noticed that overnight two photos of Booboo — shirtless on the beach in Santa Monica before they’d left for Georgia — had been posted as something of a development on the website TMZ.

“Booboo’s abs,” she pronounced, rolling her eyes, “‘Breaking news.’ ”
The two-sentence dispatch gushed that Booboo and “his smooth ripped” tummy “is giving Taylor Lautner a run for his werewolf six-pack money.”

In the pictures of him fresh from the surf, he was sporting the same crucifix-laden medallion he was wearing this day. It dangled just beneath the neckline, on the outside of his Dream Walk T-shirt.

Then, on the air with the morning-show anchor, Booboo explained that in the “Twilight” movies he plays Seth Clearwater, a shape-shifting peacemaker.
He mentioned how he was in town for Abby, that “Abby’s such an inspirational person. ... What she does is really amazing. ... I didn’t know you could be so young and get lung cancer. ... She’s such a strong person.”

The anchor asked Abby about her disease.

“I just started coughing and I had a pain in my side and they did an X-ray and a CT scan and they found a mass and it just went down from there,” she said.

Later, in the car on the way across town to the walk, Abby belted out a spot-on sing-along to the Katy Perry anthem “Firework”: If you only knew what the future holds; After a hurricane comes a rainbow.

Tina Wilson recalled a mother-daughter fuss the day before. She said the hard-headed teenager in Abby reared its head because Abby was upset that she didn’t have anything to wear to the Booboo meet-and-greet. Those are the times, Tina Wilson said, “You forget ... she’s sick.”

And Abby can be stubborn. The family was at Disney World a year or so ago and Abby refused to be pushed around in a wheelchair. Hiking the theme park drained her and she ended up in the hospital, but that’s just her.

While they toured Disney, Abby’s rambunctious little brother, Ian, now a kindergartner, was more than glad to be chauffeured. He saw the wheelchair not being used, so he hopped in and rode around like the prince of the Magic Kingdom.

When they rolled up on a vile creature from the “Star Wars” series named Asajj Ventress, one of those costumed characters who roam the parks, Ian sprang up and struck his best the-Force-is-with-me pose. The stare-down was on. Ventress, in death-white makeup with purple thingies on her bald scalp, pierced him with her evilest eye. Ian wouldn’t back down. He unleashed his make-believe mojo so long that it took every bit of his foe’s strength not to break character and laugh.

“Most kids were looking at her and intimidated,” Tina Wilson recalled. “And here’s my little 4-year-old saying, ‘You’re not intimidating me.’”

Must run in the family.

* * *

Shortly after 10 a.m., Booboo strode onto a stage overlooking the Tattnall football field. He told those assembled, “I’m really excited to be here for Abby.”

Then Tina Wilson took the microphone and spoke from the heart. She probably said “thank you” 500 times that day, and here she was getting an early start.

To the Twilight Moms of Middle Georgia who, months earlier, had decorated Abby’s room with everything “Twilight” and had now carried through on their pledge to bring in Booboo for Abby’s big day, Abby’s mother said, “I don’t have the words to thank you for everything that you have done for my child.”

Through sobs, Tina Wilson addressed her parents, her friends.

“Thank you for loving us through all this,” she said, her daughter at her side. “And thank you for my friends and for Abby’s friends that showed up today. You have no idea what this means.”

Some of what it meant was that here stood a girl — one who once remarked how two months may not seem like a long time but that in middle school it is a lifetime — living it up, sipping fruit smoothies, a celebrity for a day.

Here, too, was a girl who roots for the Georgia Bulldogs and despises rain almost as much as that “awkward” orange those pesky Florida Gators wear — “Is it trying to be red or is it trying to be yellow?” — soaking in the moment.

Here also was Abby — who has been known to hear songs playing in the background at Kroger and cry — as chipper as could be.

She and her grin that is as perfectly curved as the bottom of a full moon prompted one Twilight Mom to declare, “I love seeing her smile!”

Abby and her ebony eyebrows that look regal enough to get her into a royal wedding without a ticket had other women going up to her saying, “Remember us little people,” asking, “Can I touch you?” and “What’s Booboo like?”

Abby answered that last one with a sigh: “Uh-may-zing.”

Abby, whose mother once advised her not to let anyone “make you feel bad just because your life is different than theirs. Different is not a bad thing. God made you special and don’t you ever forget it,” seemed to have taken her mother’s words to heart.

The walk began and with Booboo matching her strides, Abby led the way. They did two laps and looked like old pals out for a stroll.

Abby, in green shorts to match the “Team Booboo” sequins on her shirt, wouldn’t remember much about what all they said to one another. It was mostly teenager talk about school, about the inflatable slide they passed on the back stretch.

But not all of it was chitchat.

One thing stuck with Abby.

Something Booboo said.

“You know,” he told her, having seen the way her folks embraced her, “you’re really lucky to be you.”


* * *

While Abby and Booboo circled the track, those close to Abby weren’t the only ones watching.

Nils Stewart Sr., a few paces behind, teared up as he tagged along.

“I was real proud,” he said later.

Stewart, a 6-foot-4, 290-pound former pro wrestler and movie-stunt specialist who appeared in the 2001 incarnation of “Planet of the Apes,” is Booboo’s father.

Stewart pegged Abby as a fun-loving kid, “a regular girl.”

He said he couldn’t fathom how he or his children would cope with the hard knocks that Abby knows. It would not be a reach to assume that a lot of other people on hand, at some point during the day, pondered that very thing.

“You would never know there was anything wrong with Abby when you see how she’s dealing with it,” Stewart said. “God knows what goes through Abby’s head when she’s just sitting there thinking about stuff. She probably wants to sit there and yell sometimes.”

* * *

When it came time for Booboo to leave, he showed Abby a trick.

He taught her how to high-five someone and then, on the downswing, make her arm sweep through and connect for a low-five.

“Just look at my elbow. Just stare at my elbow. You’ll never miss,” he said. “You don’t even have to look at the other person’s hand.”

She gave it a go and whiffed on the low-five.

She tried again. Aces.

Booboo hugged her.

“Thank you so much,” he said. “I had a great time.”

“I did too,” Abby said.

“It was really awesome,” he said.

“Bye,” she said, and the credits rolled.

* * *

With her Dream Walk over, Abby headed back to her life.

In the car on the way home, she told her mother she was starving, to please stop at Krystal.

While they sat in the drive-through line, the conversation turned to school and how the special treatment Abby sometimes gets seems to perturb another girl. Abby gets to use a calculator in math class. Abby misses a lot of days.

“I don’t know how you can be jealous of a girl who goes through the kind of chemo that Abby does,” Tina Wilson said. “Wanna trade places?”

In less than 48 hours, Abby would be back at an Atlanta children’s hospital for, oh joy, another wrenching round of chemo.

And yet Abigail Kristina Wilson was no longer wondering, What now?

After all, a boy werewolf had traveled across the country to see her. He had gotten to know her and told her how lucky she was.

Maybe now she was beginning to believe it.

Because here she was saying something you’d only hear in a movie with a happy ending. One where the girl with cancer smiles and says she wouldn’t trade places with a soul.

“I’d rather just be me,” Abby said.

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