I met Abby on a Tuesday. And I haven’t been the same since.

Erika and Abby
Small Wonders writer, Erika Anderson, and Abby
I’ve been a writer at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta for four years. I love writing and producing Small Wonders every quarter, because I get the chance to interact with our patient families. Each time I meet one of these amazing families, I’m humbled. I’m grateful. And I’m changed. Each family has had an impact on me—but none quite like the Boones.

Abby Boone is girly. She loves pink. She’s talkative. A little precocious. She teases her little brother. She likes school. She’s a little like I was when I was 8.

In the experience of writing Abby’s Road, I spent three days with Abby and her family, including her mom, Kim, dad, Jamey, and brother, Andy. It was a special assignment for me, as I usually just speak with patient families on the phone and meet them later at a photo shoot. The Boones offered us unprecedented access to their lives. We wanted this issue of Small Wonders to be different. We wanted to show you what a family fighting a life-threatening condition—in this case, cancer—must go through every day. We wanted you to really get to know one of our brave patients.

I, along with photographer Jenni Girtman, spent Tuesday riding with Kim as she drove the kids from appointment to appointment—fitting in errands in between. I was exhausted just watching her. I spent two more days at the Aflac Cancer Center and Blood Disorders Service of Children’s, while Abby underwent chemotherapy.

Just in those three days, I witnessed some of the realities Abby and her family must face every day. I closed my eyes and held back tears as Abby cried during a painful blood draw. I laughed with Abby and Andy as they built virtual cakes on their iPod touches (Abby even let me virtually frost a few of her creations). I was moved by Kim’s incredible patience and strength as she soothed Abby and spent time with Andy. It was an unforgettable experience with an unshakable family who is pulling through a tremendous battle with love, humor, compassion and bravery.

Yes, Abby is a lot like I was when I was 8. But when I was 8, I didn’t know my platelet count. I didn’t know what cancer did. I didn’t have to fight for my life.

I learned a lot from talking to Abby during those days. While Andy was in his own doctor appointment and we were waiting for him in the lobby, I asked her if people at school were nice to her. “Ever since I got cancer, everyone wants to play with me,” she told me. “I think everyone must think you’re special,” Jenni told her.

“Just because you don’t have cancer doesn’t mean you’re not special,” Abby said.

Smart girl.

Abby is special—with or without cancer. She’s got an amazing future ahead of her, and I truly believe she will go on to help others in a profound way. I can’t wait to see what she does.