Health + Wellness

Bodybuilder’s Battle With Breast Cancer: “Emotionally I Was a Wreck”


breast cancer
Photo via UChicago Medicine

Four years ago Erica Langley was training to pursue her dream of becoming a competitive bodybuilder, but the pandemic and an unexpected breast cancer diagnosis derailed her plans. 

After her workout, Langley discovered a peach pit-sized lump on her breast. She initially thought she had pulled a muscle while weightlifting. However, the lump didn’t go away so she decided to visit a neighborhood clinic. They immediately sent her to get a mammogram.

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Her diagnosis

The mammogram detected HER2-positive cancer in two locations in her left breast.

“I was scared,” Langley shares. At the time she was five weeks away from her first competition. “And that’s when I really depended on the support of my family and close friends because just emotionally I was a wreck.”

At the time Langley was only in her late 30s so her breast cancer team at UChicago Medicine devised an aggressive and comprehensive treatment plan. They also sent her to UChicago Medicine’s Cancer Risk and Prevention Clinic for genetic testing.

“When a young woman gets breast cancer, we always want to ask why. For Erica, having cancer at a young age signaled that she needed to undergo genetic testing. And it turns out, she had a well-known mutation that puts her at higher risk for breast cancer and other cancers,” University of Chicago Medicine oncologist Olwen Hahn, MD shares.

That mutation was the p53 gene. Although the mutation can be inherited, it’s unclear if Langley inherited it because there is no history of breast cancer in her family. Additionally, genetic testing showed that neither of her parents had the mutations. 

Determined to rule out any other forms of cancer, Langley’s care team ordered several cancer screening tests, including a colonoscopy and an upper endoscopy to examine the lining of the esophagus, stomach and duodenum, as well as extensive blood work. All came back negative for cancer.

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Weighing her treatment options

Because Langley was relatively young, she met with UChicago Medicine’s oncofertility specialists to explore her options for having a biological child in the future because there was a risk that chemotherapy could damage her ovaries or affect her reproductive health.

Ultimately, Langely underwent 20 weeks of chemotherapy, a double mastectomy in April 2019, intravenous targeted therapy, and

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