Prior to November, the Molinas were just another family looking forward to spending the holidays together, with middle daughter Marissa continuing to pursue one of her favorite endeavors, softball.
Then, as if delivered by a parade of Job's servants, the awful news began to assault the family of seven. First, the inconvenience: An eviction from the home the Molinas were renting in Gilbert, forcing them to expedite a move to Tucson that had been planned for June.
A month later, the life-changer: What Marissa and her family thought was a nagging softball injury was diagnosed as bone and tissue cancer in her right leg. A 14-year-old whose life consisted primarily of worry-free pursuits such as games, dances and friends now finds herself consumed by bone-transplant surgery and lots of chemotherapy.
"Our lives changed overnight," Marissa's mother, Monica, said via telephone from their new home in Tucson. "The worst part of it is that I didn't know. I thought it was growing pains or a softball that hit her. Maybe I didn't act fast enough. That's been on my mind a lot."
The whirlwind will continue through the holidays for the family: Monica and husband Freddie and other children Clarissa, 17; Junior, 13; Antonio, 9, and Jazminee Hernandez, a 4-year-old in the custody of the Molinas.
Freddie Molina will continue to work in Mesa's street-maintenance department - commuting from Tucson - but Monica had to quit her job as an attendance specialist at Higley High School in Gilbert. Mouths must be fed, and bills must be paid.
The Queen Creek-based Fans Across America Charitable Foundation, which helps provide food, clothing and other necessities to Phoenix-area families with seriously ill or special-needs children, has taken up the Molinas' cause.
"I think a lot of people know how difficult bone cancer can be," said Bruce Petillo, Fans Across America founder, whose organization has assisted about 12 families since its 2007 launch. "But for a 14-year-old girl who is athletic and has the world in the palm of her hand, that is just a gripping reminder that it can happen to any one of us."
Life is on hold for Marissa Molina, a high-school freshman and catcher for the Diamond Devils 16U team, while she receives treatment at Carden Children's Medical Center in Mesa.
In mid-November, Molina began limping, and an X-ray before Thanksgiving revealed a possible cyst. An MRI exam provided inconclusive evidence, and a visit to an orthopedic specialist was scheduled for early December. However, with her pain worsening, she visited an emergency room on Nov. 30 and was admitted to the hospital.
The cancer diagnosis was made on Dec. 2, and Molina was hospitalized for 15 days, during which she started chemotherapy while Monica was at her side and Freddie and the kids orchestrated the move to Tucson. The family was forced out of the Gilbert home when the landlord's brother needed a place to live after a foreclosure.
Marissa will undergo 10 weeks of chemotherapy before the February bone transplant surgery, 21 weeks afterward. She also has polycystic kidney disease, meaning the chemotherapy drugs must be administered with extra care.
"It's hard to see her sick," Monica Molina said. "Being a mother, you want to take care of her. She's always been very outgoing, very sociable. She loves to go do things, but now she can't."
The chemotherapy causes nausea and nosebleeds and saps her strength. But family friend Tanya Kirkpatrick, whose daughter is a softball teammate of Marissa's, marvels at her resolve and consideration of others.
"I ask her what she wants for Christmas, and she'll just smile and say that she needs nothing," Kirkpatrick said. "She's more worried about her brothers and sisters having a nice Christmas."
However, even the strong have days of doubt. On Friday, when Marissa agreed to answer a couple of questions, it appeared to be one of those days.
"I don't smile anymore; I don't laugh anymore," she said, her voice cracking. "It's just ..."
"I'm sorry; I have to go. My nose is bleeding again."
One needn't look far to find examples of the Molinas' generosity. Freddie and Monica became Jazminee's legal guardians when her mother had issues. And Marissa had long, black hair that she had cut and donated to Locks Of Love, which provides hairpieces to children suffering from medical hair loss.
Many families in the Molinas' plight have trouble articulating the need for help, Petillo said.
"This is a young lady who gave up her own hair, a selfless act that speaks volumes about her and how she has been raised," Petillo said. "It's a heartbreaking situation, as it is for a number of families in similar situations.
"But that's when people with a generous spirit have to help take over."
Tax-deductible donations toward gas, grocery and restaurant gift cards can be made by visiting fansacrossamerica.org.