Breast Cancer Survivor Runs Ultramarathons to Honor Others

Meet Holly Durstin, one of our nurse anesthetists, ultramarathoner, triathlete, and breast cancer survivor. Read about her inspirational journey to beat breast cancer.

Holly Durstin, CRNA at UConn Health and breast cancer survivor. (UConn Health/Tina Encarnacion)

Most of us would consider running a marathon an ultra-event, but how about 14 ultramarathons since six surgeries for breast cancer?

Holly Durstin ultramarathon runner and breast cancer survivor (Courtesy of Holly Durstin).

Holly Durstin, 51 years old from Norfolk, a certified registered nurse anesthetist (CRNA) in the Department of Anesthesiology at UConn Health since 2014, has accomplished these longer distance running feats as well as five iron man triathlons totaling 490 miles of running, biking, and swimming.

“At the start of a race, when others are complaining about the task ahead of them,” Durstin ’97 (NUR)  says, “I get to do it, so I think I’m lucky.”

She does it all while honoring others who have faced breast cancer and donating her race fundraising dollars for each mile she conquers to help to other women battling the disease, their families and for future research discoveries.

“When you’re down, you come back up stronger. You don’t take it for granted,” says Durstin.

While recovering from breast cancer surgery Durstin was inspired during her down time to consider the goal of running a marathon by a good friend who helped her through her treatments. “After breast cancer all you want to do is go back to work and be really active because your body failed you. I am very blessed…”

Back in 2011 Durstin first found a lump in her breast.   Her mammogram and ultrasound had both come back negative, but Holly knew something wasn’t right.

As a nurse, she asked a surgeon to take a look and he suggested that the lump in conjunction with her dense breast tissue, negative mammogram and ultrasound it would be best to biopsy the lump to examine the tissue.

A week later, she learned she had invasive breast cancer.

Durstin considered a lumpectomy and radiation at first, but with her children only three and six years old at the time, she decided to take a more aggressive preventative care approach choosing to have a bilateral mastectomy. As a result, she did not require chemotherapy treatment.

It’s been a long distance medical journey for Durstin. She had six surgeries over three years, including a breast reconstruction.

But nothing is slowing her down any time soon – and she continues to be followed by doctors at UConn Health.

“With her training as a CRNA and experience as a surgical patient, Holly brings the right balance of professionalism and empathy to work every day. She is clinically superb, but equally as important, never forgets to treat each patient with compassion during an often terrifying time,” states Dr. Thomas Yasuda, clinical chief of the Department of Anesthesiology at UConn Health.

“Holly is one of the strongest persons I know, an inspiration to all of us in the Department of Anesthesiology.”

Last year, she was concerned about her breast reconstruction not looking right, she had an MRI and a suspicious lesion thankfully came back benign.

“The care at UConn Health is just outstanding. I was nervous for my last MRI, and two anesthesia colleagues escorted me,” says Durstin. “I don’t think it’s just because I work there because I see it all the time. They’re really good people. They are top-notch.”

There is a family history of breast cancer in her family. The disease affected her mother and aunt as well, making her even more passionate raising funds to support cancer research organizations, patients and other families.

Durstin’s next racing adventure is the 54 mile Run Across CT for Mental Health on Nov. 2.  In the meantime, she is continuing to help others daily in her role as a CRNA caring for anesthesia patients at UConn Health.