Truth be known, Linda Profant is rarely, if ever, seen without a smile on her face.
The mother of Outdoor Channel television personality Tiffany Lakosky and mother-in-law to Lee, Profant is often seen on the couple's hit TV show – Crush with Lee & Tiffany – cooking meals, giving big hugs to visitors and even putting down a tag or two on her own big buck.
Linda might not be the fabled Rock of Gibraltar, but in many ways, she is indeed the rock of Crushville.
"She's the glue that holds all of this together," laughs Tiffany.
But there was a time, many Octobers ago, when everything threatened to come unraveled as life did its best to crush the smile right out of Linda and her family.
"It was October 1994 and I was doing my monthly breast self-examination when I found a lump in my right breast," said Profant, who lives near Lee and Tiffany in the big-buck state of Iowa.
"I went to the doctor right away and they did a mammogram, but they couldn't see anything. But the doctor could feel it too. It felt like a barbell lump and he did a biopsy right away."
When the news came back to that Minnesota doctor's office, it all but sucked the smile off of Profant's face.
"It came back as stage-four breast cancer," recalled Profant.
That news, which came just 11 months after Profant's mother had lost her battle with lymphoma, is just about as bad as things can get, right? Not really as Profant would find out just 10 days later. That's when her husband Gary died of a massive heart attack at the age of 47.
After the grievous process of burying her husband, Profant then had to tackle the task of surviving breast cancer, something that she did with Tiffany by her side.
"I had a full mastectomy in January 1995, then I had six months of chemo and 12 weeks of radiation," she said.
How did she get through it all? Profant admits that she isn't completely sure, "It was all kind of a blur back then," she said.
"I'm not sure that my doctor knew how to handle me," said Profant. "I had endured so much in such a short period of time that I don't know if I really cared what they gave me or did to me to treat the cancer.
"Tiffany would go along with me and she would ask the questions – she was just 19. I think I was a strange bird to the doctor, I just didn't care and said just do what you need to do."
"I was so young," recalled Tiffany. "I was dealing with my dad dying and all of that and then I had to help my mom and what she was dealing with. I barely knew what to do. But I knew my dad was gone and we had to get my mom to survive (this)."
Over time, the surgery and treatments were able to eradicate any trace of the cancer and Linda has lived in remission for the past 20 years.
"I'm not sure how I survived it all, just the grace of God I guess," said Profant. "Plus, I had two children who had just lost their dad and they couldn't lose their mother too."
Even then, the trials were not completely over as Profant, her daughter, Tiffany, and her son, Jason (Tiffany's older brother) would find out. Tiffany, who along with her brother had dropped out of college to go to work and help with expenses, suffered a stroke a few years later while on a trip as a flight attendant for Northwest Airlines. She would eventually have to have heart surgery to deal with a hole that doctors had discovered in her heart.
"People say that God will not give you more than you can handle, but I guess we were pretty close back then," said Profant.
"People will come up these days and say 'You guys have it made' and I think 'You have no idea what we've been through,'" said Tiffany.
"It was hard," she added. "But we made it through all of that together."
But all of that was then and this is now where Profant is not only a 20-year breast cancer survivor, but also a smiling and doting grandmother.
Tiffany Lakosky and her month, Linda Profant, show off a Mother’s Day long beard. (Photo courtesy Tiffany Lakosky)
"My son has two girls. I'm a tough grandma, but we have a lot of fun together," laughed Profant.
"After my husband died and through all of the cancer, I lost the joy in my life. Joy is a really strange thing. I think we all have it but people often don't realize what it is until it's gone. We all have it, but it can disappear. But when my grandkids came along, I finally felt joy again in my life."
Linda is joyous again, this time as she awaits her third grandchild after the recent announcement that Lee and Tiffany are expecting the couple's first baby in 2015.
"Oh my goodness, yes, I am joyful beyond words," said Profant. "With Tiffany, I'm rubbing her belly and kissing and talking to that baby daily. It's amazing."
Like Tiffany did for her 20 years ago, Linda is now able to go with her daughter on doctor visits, albeit for a much happier reason.
"We went to the doctor's appointment the other day and they did the first ultrasound," said Profant. "I never stopped crying the whole time I was there.
Tiffany Lakosky’s first sonogram showing a positive pregnancy. (Image courtesy Tiffany Lakosky)
"Tiffany was like 'Mom, this is a happy thing.' I said 'Yes it is and these are tears of joy.' I just couldn't turn them off. Yes, this (baby) is a pretty special event (in our lives)."
From long ago tears of grieving a lost husband and from fear of a potentially fatal diagnosis, Profant's life has come full circle today to that of a joyful mom and grandmother who is a survivor. And because of that, she also is one who can offer tender but hard earned advice to those facing the fear of breast cancer.
"The first thing I would tell women is to be faithful to do a self exam on a regular basis," said Profant. "I was very faithful to give myself a once a month self-examination.
"You owe it to yourself to do that. It's a quick exam, they hurt for 12 seconds and then it's over. But you owe it to yourself and you owe it to your family to do a monthly exam."
What advice would Profant give to someone who has actually gotten the diagnosis of breast cancer?
"I would say to research all of your options," said Profant. "Get more than one doctor's opinion and if you have to have a mastectomy, absolutely check into breast reconstruction, if for no other reason than because of how your clothes will fit.
"Honestly, I didn't really do all of that since I was so numb after losing my husband. But Tiffany did that for me."
And that leads to the third piece of advice that Profant would give, not to go it alone in the fight that follows.
"You need your family and friends for their love and support," said Profant. "You need them to be there for you and to try and understand what you're going through. Tiffany was a phenomenal support for me and she did things that no 19-year-old should ever have to go through, but she did so with flying colors," she added.
For the spouses, children and friends who will be there to offer up love and support after a breast cancer diagnosis, Profant has some advice for them too.
"I don't know if anybody who hasn't gone through it can truly understand what you're going through," she said. “But you can still be their support system, you can still be upbeat, you can be positive, you can hold their hand and you can plan the future together with them. It's not the death sentence that it was years and years ago."
Profant has been able to be a part of that support system herself in recent years.
"I've had a couple of friends who have gone through it and we've spent a lot of hours talking about it," she said. "There's a strange beauty in going down that terrible, terrible road with a partner who has been there and truly understands."
Such friendships can be invaluable she said, the ones that understand and are a part of conversations that might be difficult to have with others.
There is a final piece of advice that Profant would share. That there will be a battle ahead, but it's a battle that can be won, and a battle that cannot steal the great joy that lies ahead in the life of a woman who gets this diagnosis.
"I would never try to minimize anybody's pain and suffering and there's no doubt that it's a horrible diagnosis to go through," said Profant. "You don't even know who you are anymore because you change so much from all of the medicine and treatments.
"There are plenty of days where you wonder if you'll ever feel good again," she added. "Well, 20 years later, I'm here to tell you that yes, you do feel better again.
"There is joy on the other side of it," said Profant. "It's so true that there is always something to be grateful for. (In my case, I'm) grateful that if I had to go through it, that I was able to survive it and be cured and that I get to be a part of my grandchildren’s lives and (the lives of) my future grandchildren."
"What would I tell other women?" she added. "That there's a lot of joy left in their life; that they can get through this; that they need to get through this and get to the other side."
That would be the other side where smiles and laughter can abound again, deep in the heart of downtown Crushville.