Featured Voice: Aaron Viny, MD
Creating Meaning Through Action
Aaron Viny, MD, is an assistant professor of medicine at Columbia University Vagelos College of Physician and Surgeons and a member of the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center (HICCC) and the Columbia Stem Cell Initiative (CSCI). Dr. Viny was diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) as a college student. Having cancer directly influenced his decision to become an oncologist and to conduct research in ALL, aiming to uncover better, more effective therapies for patients.
During my cancer treatment, I often was told, “Aaron, everything happens for a reason!” Now 18 years from a bone marrow transplant for acute lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) and a physician scientist at the HICCC I’d imagine many of those people feel more resolute in that statement. For me, it doesn’t sit right. It didn’t sit right then, and it doesn’t sit right now. Similar sentiments analogize cancer treatment to a “battle." Loved ones are empathically encouraged to “fight against cancer.” Tragically, cancer often takes even the strongest people we know—and this is certainly not due to lack of will or determination or spirit.
I was lucky. I was lucky to live in a community with an excellent cancer hospital with excellent doctors and researchers and have tremendous social support from friends and family; but even having all those is still not always enough. I was lucky. Being one of the lucky ones comes with existential guilt and reflection on cancer survivorship.
Cancer survivorship is more than being alive. I rebuff that “everything happens for a reason” adage, and submit that sometimes things just happen. Things happen to all of us, good and bad, and they shape who we are. We then can give meaning to the things that happen to us through our purposeful actions. It is that narrative that drives my cancer research lab, my clinical practice, and my desire to improve the lives of cancer patients who need better, more effective, and less toxic therapies.
It is with this sentiment, as a new member of the Columbia faculty, that I am inspired by the amazing work of my clinical and research colleagues, and why I started a team for Velocity, Columbia’s Ride to End Cancer. Together with my team, the CSCI Stem Cell Cyclers, we are raising funds that directly support the research that will lead to better cancer detection and better cancer treatment. For anyone who’s life has been touched by cancer, whether in honor or in memory, I can’t think of a better way to give meaning to their journey.
HICCC Featured Voices gives our patients, members, and supporters an opportunity to share their personal stories—living with cancer, surviving cancer, researching cancer, and aiming to end cancer. If you have a story to share and want to be included as a featured voice, please email the HICCC Communications team at firstname.lastname@example.org.