Thumbs Up, Cancer Down

By Lauren Watts '14
January 28, 2015

Cody Brutlag ‘10 saw an opportunity.  It started with three thumbs and a vision. 

Now, months later, Thumbs Up, Cancer Down, a 501(c)(3) not for profit, serves cancer battlers by making their days a little brighter. 

Brutlag and Kevin Charette shared a philanthropic desire to better the lives of those struggling with cancer and founded this new organization. 

After one of their friends, David Marcus, was diagnosed with colon cancer a second time, Charette went to visit him.  They took a picture with their thumbs up, David’s signature pose that sparked it all.

 “I told Kevin this simple thumbs-up gesture has a huge potential to inspire and provide hope for others battling cancer,” Brutlag said.  “How about we collect thumbs-up photos from all over the world as part of a campaign that we can call ‘Thumbs Up, Cancer Down?’”  

Pictures with popped thumbs poured in from Bakersfield to Stockholm, Sweden in support of the campaign.  Brutlag felt this was the start of something big. 

“I knew I had to create a place for these pictures to be stored together,” he explained.  “So I reserved the domain name and made the entire website in one weekend.  I credit my time at Bradley University for giving me the ability to do that.”

“We received a thumbs-up photo from Entertainment Tonight’s Mary Hart as well as Speaker John Boehner, NASCAR driver Ryan Reed, Congressman Aaron Schock, and Congressman Kevin McCarthy,” he said. 

Brutlag attributes some of the success of Thumbs Up, Cancer Down to the uniqueness of its message.

“We [Kevin and I] came to the conclusion that there aren’t many cancer organizations that care for the mental wellbeing of patients while they are receiving treatment,” he explained.  “We did not want to further fragment cancer research, instead we wanted those undergoing treatment to have something to make them smile.”

As a result, Brutlag and Charette developed the Thumbs Up, Power Up packs.  These packs include a blanket, beanie, notebook and pen, and an individualized, encouraging note from the donator.  There is hope to up the ante in the future.

“This is just the beginning,” Brutlag said. “We have so much more in store for these packs down the road. We would like to further develop them to include more items, such as snacks and entertainment options.”

David Marcus has since received a second clean bill of health. His signature pose helped Thumbs Up, Cancer Down spread his infectious positive attitude to treatment centers everywhere. Mission accomplished.

Brutlag recognizes that his time at Bradley University was a catalyst for him to make Thumbs Up, Cancer Down a success. 

“I honestly have to say that the success of this non-profit, at least on the marketing and PR side, comes from the culmination of my education at Bradley, my job at WMBD, and my career here [Bakersfield] in the county tourism office,” the communications graduate said.

“My professors, Dave Lennie and Bob Jacobs, allowed me to be creative and were always available to troubleshoot or answer any of my questions,” Brutlag added.

You can join the Thumbs Up, Cancer Down movement by sending in your thumbs up photo to  Information for purchasing a Thumbs Up, Power Up pack is also available on the website.