"We're one big family now, says Laura Ruffino. "We just wish Liz was with us"
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Credit: Shana Wittenwyler

It was a cold December morning last year in Buffalo, New York, when Liz Diamond just found out that her stage 4 brain cancer had worsened, and asked her best friend since fifth grade, Laura Ruffino, a nearly unfathomable question.

“She said, ‘If anything happens to me, will you take my girls?’ ‘ Laura, 41, tells PEOPLE in this week’s issue. “I just immediately said, ‘Okay.’ That was basically it.”

And she kept her word.

Laura and her husband, Rico, 40, took in Liz’s four children after she passed away on April 4, 2015.

Just one day later, Tara, 12, Samona, 9, Ella, 8 and Lily, 6, moved in. They joined Laura and Rico’s daughters Bella, 14, and Grace, 12 – and now have six girls under one roof.

Laura and Rico are currently the girls’ legal guardians and are in the process of trying to adopt them. Meanwhile, Liz’s ex-husband, who has not been involved with the girls since 2009, is also seeking custody.

Like Laura, Rico also says it was an easy decision to welcome the kids into their lives.

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“We didn’t really talk about the decision to take in the girls,” says Rico. “I know that sounds crazy. But I just came out and said [that if] anything happened to Liz, I’d be honored to take her kids.”

“People expected that we had this huge conversation, but it was very simple,” Laura adds.

The community is also by their side, donating twice-weekly meals and helping the support the family through a GoFundMe site that will help them with everything from daily expenses for their family of eight to college funds and medical expenses.

“We’re one big family now,” she also says. “We just wish Liz was with us”