A retired Rutherford County elementary school principal and his wife — also a longtime educator — say they are grateful for his restored health after he successfully fought thyroid cancer, and they look forward to getting on with life.

Dr. David Eugene “Gene” Loyd retired last spring as principal of Northfield Elementary School. He said he was the principal for 16 years, and worked for 40 years in education, including time spent in Washington County schools. His wife, Karen Loyd, a 39-year education veteran, works as an academic interventionalist at Black Fox Elementary School.

The high school sweethearts, who are from Jonesborough, said they will have been married 39 years in June. They have four adult children, two of whom work in education.

Their marriage was tested over the past several years as Gene Loyd battled an aggressive thyroid cancer and its after-effects, which had left him confined to a wheelchair. But now that the cancer is considered cured and a surgery vastly improved his quality of life – giving him mobility – the couple said they hope to travel.

When asked their plans for Valentine’s Day, Karen Loyd said they have not given it much thought, although they will probably be packing. They are having a new, one-floor home built off Veterans Parkway, and it should be finished at the end of the month. They plan to move in March.

They are downsizing, having sold their old, larger home and moved into an apartment in the interim.

“We look forward to more trips,” Karen Loyd said, adding their most recent vacation was years ago to Las Vegas and the Grand Canyon. “We’re going to fly again” once life is more normal.

That vacation was not the most recent time they have flown – they flew in 2019 to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Texas for a consultation. Gene Loyd was already under the care of Tennessee Oncology and Ascension Saint Thomas Rutherford Hospital.

His wife said the trip to Texas and back was “miserable” because her husband was on powerful medications and still was in a great deal of pain, despite taking opioids.

The couple made it through cancer with the help of their faith, their grown children, Gene Loyd’s doctors, their church and the support of the late Dr. Linda Gilbert, the former superintendent of Murfreesboro City Schools, Karen Loyd said.

“You lean on the Lord, mostly,” Karen Loyd said. “God got us through it.”


The treatment team

The couple also credits Gene Loyd’s local doctors, William Lea and Jeremy McDuffie.

McDuffie, of Tennessee Oncology, said he is happy that Gene Loyd’s quality of life improved “dramatically” by allowing him to walk again. A telling sign is that the patient is able to visit his office without his wife’s help, the doctor said.

Lea, a radiologist affiliated with Saint Thomas, said that not only was Loyd cured, but he agreed the quality of life improved.

Loyd has an excellent prognosis, McDuffie said. The doctor said the patient came to him he with lower back pain. His thyroid cancer had progressed more aggressively than normal, and diagnostic imaging showed the cancer had spread to his right hip. Gene Loyd had radiation therapy, but did not get a “desired outcome.”

Loyd began taking an anti-cancer medication to control the symptoms. That is when he traveled to Texas for a consultation. After returning home, he was referred to Lea.

Lea said the cancer had eroded a great deal of Loyd’s bone in the pelvis, causing fracturing and pain. Lea said he had specialized in studying that type of issue in college, and he said he credits God’s providence in bringing Loyd and him together.

The principal elected to have minimally invasive stabilization of his pelvis, Lea said.

Up until then, Loyd’s only options had been removing half his hip or treating the pain with powerful opioids, which still would have left him in pain, Lea said.

The principal said he had only two to three bandages after the surgery, and life since then has been much better despite having some pain. He said he can walk and drive.

Karen Loyd said she is grateful for her husband’s’ medical outcome, and added that the opioids had altered his personality.

Now, in addition to planning future vacations, the couple can enjoy time with their adult children and their grandchildren, Gene Loyd said.

“During this time, my family was fantastic support — my wife probably more than anybody,” he said. “She put up with me. We felt God was with us in this whole thing.”