LONGMONT, Colo. — Music has brought a Longmont family closer than ever, even as one person continues his fight against cancer — alone — in the hospital during the pandemic.
George Florentine and his wife Susan Bockhoff, who live in Longmont, said after a long, stressful summer and fall, they're looking forward to Christmas.
Florentine, 62, spent part of August and much of September in the hospital, recuperating from a staph infection, and his third bone marrow transplant.
He said he was first diagnosed with lymphoma in 2010.
"I hooked up with the folks at the Colorado Blood Cancer Institute in 2011, when I had a relapse," he said. "They gave me a bone marrow transplant which worked great for about 6 years."
The Longmont resident said chemo used to combat his lymphoma apparently led to leukemia.
In 2017, as his blood markers worsened, doctors decided he needed another transplant.
He said that bone marrow lasted just 19 or 20 months, and that last spring, doctors decided he needed a third transplant.
"Most people don't need three, but my bone marrow kept kind of misbehaving," he said.
Pandemic restrictions take a toll
Being in the hospital in the middle of a pandemic wasn't easy for Florentine, or his wife.
Neither she, nor the rest of their family, could be at his side.
"I knew they loved me, but it's different when you can't see them in person," he said. "FaceTime is great. Zoom is great. But it doesn't replace human touch."
Bockhoff said she did more than worry.
"There were moments ... when I thought he wasn't going to make it," she said, with faltering voice. "I thought I was going to be alone. That's when I broke down."
A new song is born in the family
Bockhoff said she was home alone, quarantining, one day when her daughter-in-law Maruja, a psychologist who lives in Los Angeles, asked how she could help.
Bockhoff said she asked Maruja to help her write a song.
Music runs in the family.
Bockhoff began writing a song about being home alone, while her husband was alone in the hospital, not allowed to have any visitors.
She titled the song, "Love Will See Us Through."
"He's got an IV, he watches TV, it feels like he's in a tomb," she sang.
Another lyric goes, "some how, some way, you're going to get to a new day."
Bockhoff sent the track to Maruja, who added background vocals and the music track.
Florentine and Bockhoff's son, Ross, put it all together.
Florentine said the most poignant part of the song is toward the end, when each grandchild individually mentions, "I love you, papa," and the rest of the family joins in with a message of love, and a welcome home.
"That's the tear-jerker part," he said.
Florentine said it reminded him of an earlier FaceTime conversation with Bockhoff, during a previous hospital stay.
He heard one of his grandkids getting fussy in the background, and then heard Bockhoff start singing to the child, which calmed them down.
"I'm like, this is why I want to fight. I want to be there when my grandchildren get married," he said.
Florentine said he's convinced that part of the reason he's still here is because of the love in his family.
"Music has been a big part of our life in the way of expressing it," he said.
His physician assistant at the Colorado Blood Cancer Institute at Presbyterian/St. Luke's Medical Center, Hannah McNally, said music therapy can have a huge impact on hospital patients.
"A song can touch places that sometimes words alone just don't," she said.
When asked about Florentine prognosis, McNally said hopefully the worst days are behind him.
Florentine appears to be getting stronger, but he's not out of the woods yet.
"Typically, multiple transplants mean we're struggling to battle an aggressive disease, and like I said, we hope for the best case scenario. He's done great so far and we hope that that continues," McNally said.
"We're ready to go, and we'll see how many days we have, and hopefully it's a big number," Florentine said.
The couple said they hope one day to sing "Love Will See Us Through" together for the staff at the Colorado Blood Cancer Institute.
That's after everyone's been vaccinated and the pandemic danger is over.
Until then, they're just looking forward to spending the holidays together.
"It is the best Christmas in the world just to have him here," Bockhoff said.