As 10-year-old Zeila and her family walked along Kichijoji Avenue, in the shade of the tall green trees of Inokashira Park, they came upon a colorful building and found themselves standing in front of a sign that read, "Ghibli Museum.” Zeila’s eyes grew wide when she then saw her favorite character, Totoro, who pointed toward the entrance of the anime museum.
Inside, her excitement grew even more as she dove deeper into her imagination and experienced a behind-the-scenes look at how anime films are made and produced. There were Ghibli characters everywhere, and Zeila was submerged right into the movie sets.
This was the culmination of a wish journey meant to inspire her after a difficult year coping with her new lupus diagnosis. Her love of Studio Ghibli movies, Japanese food, and Japan itself, is how she had made the decision to wish to go Tokyo, Japan.
One of the sweetest moments along her journey was her wish reveal at Macy’s Ala Moana. She was so surprised that, “for the first time ever, she cried tears of happiness,” wish mom Jessica recalled. There had been special dance performances, speeches, and even people dressed up as Totoro and her favorite Ghibli anime characters—all for her.
This wish reveal was a huge turning point for Zeila. Her mom explained that the eight months prior had been filled with, “You can’t do that,” “You can’t eat that,” or “We have to do another test.” Her world had been turned upside down. “To know we could give her good news that has nothing to do with her condition was a relief and a true gift,” Jessica said.
Leading up to her wish, Zeila’s parents were able to use the anticipation and excitement as positive encouragement to help her take her medication or wear her mask at school. She would listen to her parents because she knew she needed to be well enough to have the best possible time during her wish in Tokyo.
Even when things got especially difficult, like during a 36-day hospital stay, Zeila’s dreams of Tokyo and the Ghibli Museum inspired her to keep fighting. When asked what a wish come true would mean, she’d said, “It would mean that all that time I spent in the hospital feeling bad was worth it if I could go to my favorite place.”
Jessica encouraged this positive spirit in her daughter Zeila, and older sister Ava, every step of the way. “The girls need to know that good things happen all the time and that there’s good people out there that help make them happen,” she said.
The trip to Tokyo provided a much-needed opportunity for quality family time. “As a family I think it was also an eye opener for how strong we are and that we can push through a lot together,” Jessica said. Zeila still thinks about her wish often and will have these happy memories to hold onto as she copes with her new reality living with lupus. Most importantly, she learned that her family, and our entire Hawaii community, will always be there to support her.
To encompass this once-in-a-lifetime experience, Jessica said, “We really couldn’t have asked for more—it was beyond anything we could’ve imagined. It was like having pinch-me moments every day!”