Cancer survivor going backstage with Kellie Pickler

lfabian@macon.comMay 9, 2014 

Austin Freeman, 11, poses with singer Kellie Pickler after he presented her with a faux diamond ring last year at Children's Healthcare of Atlanta.


Austin Freeman has no idea what he’s in for Saturday night.

The 11-year-old will have a backstage pass for Kellie Pickler’s concert at Wild Adventures Theme Park.

Of course, the young cancer patient also didn’t know what to expect when he first learned of Pickler last year at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta at Egleston.

He met the country music star when she performed for the patients.

“When she walked in the room, I swear his jaw dropped down to his knees,” said Austin’s grandfather, Cliff Rushin, a retired Macon-County assistant fire chief.

Austin thought she had the voice of an angel.

He begged his grandfather for $20, but refused to tell him what it was for.

With cash in hand, Austin raced over to the hospital gift shop while Pickler was singing. He rushed back with a little box.

When it came time for introductions, Austin said, “Miss Kellie, I have something to give you.”

Rushin watched her expression as she unwrapped the faux diamond ring.

“She almost started to tear up,” Rushin said. “She was really holding back.”

The former American Idol contestant didn’t think her husband would mind, so she slipped the sparkling gem on her finger.

“She plants this big ol’ kiss on his cheeks,” Rushin said. “They formed a pretty instant friendship.”

Pickler put her arms around Austin and they smiled cheek to cheek for a photo -- with the ring clearly in view.

Austin, who lives in McDonough with his mom and sister, stayed in Macon with his grandparents during his 11 months of chemotherapy and radiation.

All the while, he listened to Pickler’s music when he was too weak to play.

He’s been cancer free since March and is gaining his strength back. Last week, he led the Survivors’ Walk at Bibb County’s Relay for Life.

The hospital and amusement park arranged Saturday’s trip, which Austin’s mom, Abby Freeman, says will be great medicine.

“This is an awesome opportunity for Austin to really enjoy just being a kid who loves animals, rather than a child that had to endure all the sickness and side effects of being treated for such a deadly disease for so long.

“And he loves fast rides, so he will have a blast!”

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