LOWELL | What started as a shocking way to raise money for breast cancer research has turned into a blessing for a local unemployed single mother of three fighting the disease.
A trio who stars in the YouTube channel "Simple Pickup" set out on Venice Beach and the streets of L.A. for their unconventional fundraising effort.
They pledged a $20 donation to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation for each person who agreed to be motorboated, which is when a person places his face in another person's cleavage and makes a vibrating sound.
"In order to get a lot of eyes on something, you have to make it shocking and controversial," said Jesse J., one of the faces of "Simple Pickup." "At the end of the day, millions of people viewed the video. I think the goal was met."
The motorboating, done with consent from women — and men — yielded $2,080 worth of pledges, which was sent to the foundation in October — Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
The foundation returned the money.
"We were extremely shocked," Jesse J. said. "I couldn't even fathom the concept."
The amount grew to $7,000 because the trio added $100 in donations for every 100,000 views of their motorboating video on YouTube.
The foundation said it appreciates all efforts to raise money to advance breast cancer research.
"However, we made the difficult decision to refund Simple Pickup's $2,080 donation out of respect for the sensitivities of the community we serve," the organization stated.
"Simple Pickup," which gives tips on how to attract women, turned to its followers for advice.
"We asked our fans what to do," said Jason R., another face of "Simple Pickup."
They suggested giving the money to a person in need.
"Simple Pickup" searched online and found a fundraising website for Crystal Cody, a 36-year-old Lowell woman fighting cancer. They called and talked to her about their fundraising but didn't say much more.
In the meantime, they worked with Cody's sister, Laci Myers, to arrange a surprise visit. Cody put the conversation in the back of her mind, until the three men and two more with video cameras walked into her front room two weeks before Thanksgiving.
They chose her to receive the $7,000 donation, along with a matching donation from an anonymous donor.
"That $14,000 is a huge help," she said.
Cody was disappointed the foundation returned the money because every dollar toward research helps the greater good.
"We were very gratified to learn that 'Simple Pickup' kept their promise to donate all of the money they raised to Ms. Cody, and our heartfelt support also goes out to her and her family, as it does to all the women and men who have to endure this terrible disease," the foundation stated.
Cody, who attended Highland High School as a teen and later moved to Schererville before settling in Lowell, is thankful "Simple Pickup" chose her.
"I never thought they would pick me," Cody said. "There's a million stories like me."
As bad as her situation, there's always someone who has it worse off, she said.
"Simple Pickup" set up another fundraising website, which includes a video of its visit to Lowell, and it went viral.
A $7,000 goal was surpassed within days. As of 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, the amount raised was $14,411.
Cody was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer in July 2009 and has since undergone 17 surgeries, a double mastectomy, hysterectomy, chemotherapy and radiation.
She quit her job as a gate clerk for Union Pacific in April when the cancer returned and had spread to her spine, ribs and sternum wall.
"I wanted to be around my kids all the time," she said. "I don't know if I have six months or six years. It's scary."
The Mayo Clinic in April told her she has about 3 1/2 years to live, but online support groups have given her hope, with other women living well beyond what doctors told them.
What pains her most is the depression. Its saps her of the person she used to be.
"I feel like I"m just trapped in this corner sometimes," she said.
Some days, she lies in bed and cannot get up. Or, she is so sick to her stomach, with only crackers and ginger ale sustaining her.
Motivation to stay strong comes from wanting to be there for her children, 13-year-old Paige Szulewski, 8-year-old Peyton Zientara and 7-year-old Cody Zientara.
Her children know to be extra mindful of their bodies as they grow older, as cancer has spread throughout their family tree.
When Cody was 17, she discovered a lump in her breast, but she was told it was fatty tissue. She encourages women to get checked, even if it seems scary.
"I really hope that Crystal can beat her cancer," Jason R. said. "When we were there, we were saying she was a really strong woman. I don't see her as the type to give up so easily."
Here is a link to Cody's fundraising website, which features the YouTube video of the "Simple Pickup" visit to Lowell: www.indiegogo.com/projects/crystal-cody-breast-cancer-fundraiser.