Photo: Gustavo Huerta, Houston Chronicle / Staff Photographer
In 2014, Heather Lozada was working as a nurse in Lubbock, but she felt something pulling her to Houston.
She applied for some jobs in Lubbock, but also put in for some in Houston where her sister lived. She applied for an educator position in the Texas Medical Center and within hours was scheduled for an interview.
“It was like God was saying, ‘Go to Houston, Go to Houston,’” she said.
She got the job and days later she and her husband, Joseph, bought a house in Houston.
“Everything was working out like it was supposed to,” Lozada said.
But she had a nagging feeling. She felt a lump but wasn’t too concerned. She was breastfeeding her 9-month-old son. She thought it was just a clogged milk duct.
She knew her insurance was about to run out with the job change, so she wanted to get it checked out just in case.
She had a mammogram and her OBGYN ordered an ultrasound.
“Everything had been working out so well, then all the sudden it was ‘oh, you have cancer,’” she said.
She had no history of breast cancer in her family and she had always lived a healthy and active lifestyle.
“It was a shocker being diagnosed with breast cancer,” she said. “I just never really thought it would happen to me.”
While she was still in Lubbock, she had a body scan and a biopsy.
She got the results while on a girls trip traveling to Houston with three of her closest friends.
Over the phone she found out she had Stage IV breast cancer that had spread to her liver and her lungs.
“It took my breath away,” she said. “I remember whispering, because that’s all I could do, “It’s in my liver.’” Especially being a health care professional, I knew what that meant. It was totally shocking because of my age and someone who lived a healthy lifestyle.”
She couldn’t help but question, how could this happen and why?
Once in Houston, she reached out to Dr. Julie Nangia with Baylor College of Medicine’s Lester and Sue Smith Breast Center. Nangia was the wife of her husband’s college friend.
Nangia presented the case to her colleague Dr. Kent Osborne and he became Lozada’s doctor.
First he had to get the results from Lubbock of what type of breast cancer it was. They determined it was HER2+ breast cancer.
Before she had even received the results of what type of cancer it was, she had asked Dr. Osborne what type of cancer he specialized in and he told her HER2+.
“I remember my heart skipped a beat. God had set me up with this physician who is world known for this type of cancer that I have,” she said.
She knew her care was in the right hands.
“I felt like I was a person at Baylor College of Medicine,” she said. “Not just a number.”
Her treatment began on July 11, 2014.
She started on four different types of cancer medication and the aggressive chemo drug Taxotere.
She did the strong chemo for four and a half months. She lost all her hair and her eyebrows. But she took the hair loss in stride saying being bald was so much easier.
In January 2015, she had a double mastectomy with Dr. Elizabeth Bonefas and eventually two reconstructive surgeries in fall 2015 with Dr. Shayan Izaddoost.
Throughout this time she was still working in the Texas Medical Center and commuting in from Magnolia which had its challenges.
One was sitting in morning traffic on the way in. She would get on the bus for the commute at 6:15 a.m. Most people would grumble about the early commute and traffic, but due to the gratitude and thankfulness she developed during her cancer journey, she learned to appreciate and enjoy little things about the commute like the sunrise.
She eventually transferred closer to home as an education specialist in CHI St. Luke’s The Woodlands’ Labor and Delivery unit.
All was smooth sailing until she began getting constant headaches in August 2016.
An MRI scan showed cancer in her brain and eventually her spine.
“It was devastating all over again,” she said. “Why is this happening to me?”
This time the cancer was treated with brain radiation.
And she’s been in a stable health situation since completing brain radiation.
For the past year and a half she’s been receiving chemotherapy infusions at CHI St. Luke The Woodlands.
She said while she enjoyed seeing all the staff at the Medical Center, the drive took a big chunk out of her day.
Having the infusions done locally also allowed her to spend more time with her young sons.
“I feel cared for and I know I’m getting the best treatment,” Lozada said. “It’s been very nice to have everything that I need right here in this building.”
She does her treatments on Fridays. At the end of her work day, she has has a chemo infusion every three weeks. Then she goes home and rests. And she’s a little tired on Saturday, but then she’s recovered by Monday.
She said her cancer journey has brought her closer to God and her friends and family. Her sons have also been one of her big motivators.
“One thing I never wanted was for my kids not to be able to do something or for me not to be there because I’m sick,” she said. I think that’s been a motivator for me. I have the ability so let’s do it.”
She said she feels very blessed to be stable and able to live a normal life.
“Every day is a blessing,” she said. “Be thankful for the day that you have and the life that you have.”