Deputy Heather Lloyd was visiting friends at the Fredericksburg Police Department when she saw the officer who provided her field training.
That was Lt. Nikki Gentry, who called Lloyd one of the best—and easiest—officers she’d trained because Lloyd picked up information quickly and retained it readily.
“I used to call you Digger because you wouldn’t stop digging until you found it,” Gentry said to Lloyd. “You wouldn’t give up.”
Gentry encouraged Lloyd to channel that same energy in her continued battle against a brain tumor.
“Keep fighting,” Gentry said. “That’s what you gotta do.”
Lloyd, 37, has been fighting back for almost seven years.
In April 2012, she was at a basketball game, cheering for her team, when she suddenly couldn’t speak.
“The whole right side of my face stopped working,” she said.
Tests revealed a paraganglioma, a rare slow-growing tumor found in cells outside the brain and spinal cord. Doctors estimated she’d probably had it for a decade or more, but while 97 percent of the tumors are benign, hers was malignant. After two surgeries, in 2012 and 2017, it’s continued to grow into her bones and can’t be reached with a scalpel.
But Lloyd, who jokes that she’s normally a pessimistic person, is optimistic that she’ll be back in uniform soon. She was told after that first surgery that she’d probably never be a police officer again or resume activities she loved.
She not only found a way to keep working, but she also started running to build up her strength. She ran her first marathon in November 2015.
“Heather’s grit is an inspiration to all,” said Maj. Troy Skebo with the Spotsylvania Sheriff’s Office, where Lloyd currently is assigned. Her “positive strength will help her overcome this life challenge.”
‘I WAS AMBITIOUS’
Lloyd is 5 feet, 1 inch tall and a force to be reckoned with. She boarded a plane the night she graduated from Courtland High School in 1999 and headed for Army basic training at Fort Jackson, S.C.
“I was ambitious,” she said. “I wanted to start my new life.”
She served in the military for four years and was assigned to the Pentagon immediately after terrorists flew a plane into the facility. She also was part of the Virginia Army National Guard’s 229th Brigade Engineer Battalion and was deployed often.
“After 9/11, it got real,” she said.
She joined the Aquia Harbour Police Department in 2004, then the Fredericksburg department the next and stayed more than 10 years. She was a community police officer, working to establish bonds with residents and be visible in neighborhoods all the time, not just after a crime, said Fredericksburg Capt. Mark Purcell.
She said residents greeted her as “Officer Miss Lloyd,” and “people could see that she was the real deal,” Purcell added.
After the first surgery, Lloyd came back to work and was assigned light-duty status in the 911 Center. She couldn’t even swallow at that point because of tumor damage and the operation’s side-effects, but worked despite the feeding tube and daily radiation treatments.
Her job at the center introduced her to veteran dispatcher Lisa Jernigan. The two married in April 2015.
Just when Lloyd thought she was ready for patrol again, her symptoms—hearing and vision problems, trouble swallowing—reappeared in late 2016. A second surgery followed, and Lloyd knew she couldn’t go back to patrolling the streets.
She took a job with Spotsylvania Sheriff’s Office in the court services division and hoped to become a school resource officer.
Then, more bad news. The tumor removed in the second surgery grew again, and a third operation wasn’t an option. It might kill her or be totally debilitating, Jernigan said.
Lloyd is taking four chemotherapy pills daily and an expensive medicine to keep her blood pressure from spiking out of control. The tumor causes the release of adrenaline, which can make blood pressure rise and bring on a stroke, Jernigan said.
Her co-pay on the medicine is $4,000, and she regularly visits at least three doctors at VCU Medical Center in Richmond. Each one charges a $40 co-pay.
Lloyd is still employed with Spotsylvania and hoping to return to work in March. She’s encouraged by recent improvement; a month ago, she couldn’t talk above a whisper or get out of bed more than an hour a day.
Last week, she visited the Fredericksburg department and passed out hugs and gray brain cancer-awareness wristbands. She also talked about the mounting medical bills involved with her illness—and how the community, as well as her brothers and sisters in blue in Fredericksburg, Spotsylvania and beyond have come to her aid.
“With all the people helping, I have had the most minimal stress ever,” Lloyd said. “We haven’t had to worry about the mortgage or food or medicine, and haven’t had to take out any loans.”
The Police Benevolent Foundation and the Virginia Division of the Southern States PBA have established the Deputy Lloyd Recovery Fund. Donations are tax-deductible and 100 percent of money raised goes to her fund, according to a press release.
When the foundation does fundraisers for officers killed in the line of duty or impacted by medical issues, “our law enforcement professionals are absolutely generous and supportive of their fellow officers,” said Sean McGowan, executive director of the Virginia PBF. “We do it whenever and wherever our members require it.”
Lloyd also has received about $10,000 from community groups. That includes the Lisa Pitts Eley Cancer Fund, the Strength & Honor Motorcycle Club of Fredericksburg and Fly Fitness Inspiration in Fredericksburg.
Ellie’s Elves, which supports families in crisis, has brought donations of money and bags of applesauce and pudding cups when Lloyd couldn’t eat anything but soft foods. Candi Stewart, a finance officer at the Rappahannock Regional Criminal Justice Academy, delivered soup and donations.
El Rodeo, a restaurant on Lansdowne Road near the academy, has a fundraiser for Lloyd every Thursday night in February.
“I’m extremely grateful,” Lloyd said. “I’m so glad we live in a community where people still know each other.”