HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - When she was a young mother, Mary Arizo didn’t know life would throw her a curve.
Death would take her children when they were young adults. Her daughter died four years ago.
“She had stomach cancer and it was big when they found it. She was already stage four,” Arizo said.
Her daughter’s death left Arizo’s granddaughter without a mother, so Leila came under her care.
Arizo is her legal guardian.
“She calls me mommy. She calls me grandma. So I guess I fit the bill for both,” she said.
With help from her longtime boyfriend, Arizo teaches Leila to do her best and appreciate life's simple things.
The lessons aren't lost on the 12-year-old.
"If you look up to the sky and stars at night, that's how much I love my grandma. There's so much stars out there, it's like infinity," Leila said.
Arizo can't work because of serious health issues and a persistent problem with her spine.
"I need to get surgery but I'm afraid to get surgery because I'm afraid of what's going to happen to her if something happens to me," she said.
The family receives some government assistance, but after the bills are paid there's no money left.
Helping Hands Hawaii hopes someone answers their Christmas wish list.
"I just like art and stuff like that so I'd just like art supplies, and maybe a bike," Leila said.
Meanwhile, Arizo said, “I’d rather just have for Leila. But if they can, a nice fuzzy house robe for me."
Even before she took over as legal guardian, Arizo cared for Leila. The two are more like mother and daughter than grandmother and grandchild.
“I feel like I’m doing a pretty good job because a lot of people have commented on how good Leila is,” Arizo said.