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Finding the confidence to keep fighting: Marshall’s story

Christina Joseph By Christina Joseph

To walk up the stairs when I first got home, it seemed like it was walking up mount Everest.

Would I ever make it up there?

I have been living with diabetes for years. I had triple bypass surgery in 2014, and 2016 I was diagnosed with liver cancer.

I lost a lot of my confidence at that time because I would look in the mirror and he just seemed like a half the man that I used to be. 

And I didn’t have anybody that I really felt comfortable talking to. I pretty much depend on myself a lot.

Nicole is my nurse through Aetna.


 She changed my life because she helped me to find someone that I could open up to. Instead of being all by myself. She was like my little special guardian angel there for me.

She helped me to explain things to me, my medication, my healthcare, my eating habits. She helped me to feel more confidence in myself.

My goal is to get healthy one step at a time. I’m gonna get up and do something about my life.

Instead of doing something negative I can do something positive for my body and my mind.

You see that older guy walking down the street with his head up high walking straight not humped over and like he’s about ready to fall out. I felt my strength coming back. I’m gonna make it. I’m strong. I will survive. 


Marshall Cummings is a real member who’s given us permission to use his story.

Marshall Cummings had lost his confidence. A series of health setbacks – including heart disease, diabetes and liver cancer — left the Elizabeth, N.J. resident feeling depressed and overwhelmed. “I would look in the mirror, and I seemed like half the man that I used be,” says Marshall.

Marshall didn’t want to burden his family: His sister had her own health problems, and he refused to let his son see him when he was weak. He’d watched his own father and grandfather die in their early 60s.

“It was in the back of my mind when I looked at myself after my liver operation — wow, is this it?,” says Marshall. “I'm 67. I hope to live to be 107. I didn't want to be the older guy walking around with the crutches, being sickly. If I was going down, I was going down with a fight.”

So, when Aetna contacted him about its new community-based care program, where nurses meet with members at their doctors offices and in their homes to develop personalized health care plans, Marshall was game.

“I said, ‘All right. Why not? Can't hurt. Maybe it can help me.’”

Lending a helping hand

Marshall started working with Nicole Taylor, the Aetna nurse case manager who ultimately helped him take charge of his care and get back on his feet. Nicole slowly built a relationship with Marshall, spending time in his home (she saw that he was struggling with the stairs), learning about his life (he was once athletic and is very independent), his preferences (he enjoys fresh fruits and baked goods) and his family’s health history (high blood pressure was rampant).

It’s exactly what Nicole needed to put together a personalized care plan for Marshall. She got him to join a nearby gym and found a local park where he could take walks. They planned healthy meals together and visited a nearby farmer’s market to buy fresh produce. Nicole went to doctor appointments, sat with him after surgery and arranged his transportation to physical therapy.

 “The amount of impact that we can offer a member by giving this personalized support and being in their home is priceless,” says Nicole. “We were in it together.”

 Marshall also relied upon her to fill in the blanks when he was unclear about his care plan or medications.

“She was somebody that could break it down so I could really understand what the doctors were saying — and what I could do about it,” he says.

Treating the whole person

Nicole also noticed Marshall was feeling depressed after his cancer surgery, which is common for those who find themselves battling an illness or chronic condition. They talked about his feelings. Nicole encouraged him to do small things to feel good about himself like shave and socialize with his friends. As a result, Marshall started taking better care of himself and his mood improved.

Read more about supporting a friend or family member through a health challenge.

But most importantly, Nicole was simply there.

“She was like my little special guardian angel, there for me when I needed her,” he says.

The feeling is mutual. “He's gotten into my heart,” says Nicole, adding that Marshall truly embraced the community-based care program. “I'm proud that he is at a point where he feels confident and can continue to move forward with his health.”

Now, Marshall is regaining his confidence and has a better outlook on his future.

“My goals are to improve my health, improve my life,” he says. “I feel stronger, more confident. I can see down the road that I will, and I can, be in good health again.”

Learn more about Marshall’s health hero, Nicole Taylor.


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