Online dating has given the world many things. For most of us, long-term friendship and overall well-being aren’t high on that list.
Michelle Stravitz and Ilana Gamerman, founders of the Fairfax-based nonprofit 2Unstoppable, took the idea of internet matchmaking but changed the objective. Their site pairs women who have been diagnosed with cancer so they can exercise together on their own or join virtual workout classes led by certified instructors through the site.
Women who get 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity along with two sessions of resistance training each week have a reduced risk of many types of cancer, as well as lower odds of cancer recurrence—and better chances of surviving cancer if they are diagnosed, according to the National Cancer Institute.
Stravitz and Gamerman are both cancer survivors, diagnosed three years apart, who worked out together during recovery following their respective treatments. They credit the social support they got from each other as the reason they stuck to their exercise programs. They also saw an opportunity to help other women with cancer diagnoses survive and beat the odds of recurrence.
As they researched, they learned there is a correlation between social support and exercise, a discovery that led them to the University of Toronto, where a program called ActiveMatch was being developed. It became the model for 2Unstoppable, the only platform in the U.S. that pairs cancer survivors with fitness buddies.
The website is built on the software logic of a dating app, with one key difference: no swiping. “We’d like women to find a fitness buddy who’s going through the same life experience,” says Stravitz. “When I went through [chemotherapy], I had teenaged children. Other women have fertility concerns. Some are older in life. This matters, and it’s different for everyone.” So 2Unstoppable asks new members to enter parameters including location, age, and diagnosis to conduct a search, and then returns all profiles meeting those criteria.
Along with being able to search by diagnosis (as well as age and location), a new version of the site is in development that will allow searching by preferred exercise type. “Women who have cancer have a variety of physical accommodations they need to make because treatment can cause [side effects] like neuropathy, which might affect balance or the ability to walk or run,” says Stravitz.
The site went live in 2018. Today, more than 500 women have signed up to find a buddy through 2Unstoppable. More than 1,000 women subscribe to the newsletter. Over the past 18 months, as their exercise programs became virtual due to the pandemic, their community has grown, not only in Northern Virginia but around the country.
Denise Manos signed up for 2Unstoppable after she was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic cancer and was matched with six buddies who became her friends. “Receiving a cancer diagnosis is like getting a brick in the face,” she says. “Something changed your life—for the rest of your life—and you have to keep having a positive attitude. It helps to be able to talk to someone who understands that feeling without having to explain my diagnosis to people who haven’t experienced it.”
Right now, 2Unstoppable is free to members who sign up, with some of the exercise instructors donating their time. The organization’s operations are funded in part through individual donations via the website, plus foundation donations and occasional grants.
“The reason why we call ourselves 2Unstoppable, using the number, is because we’re based on friendship,” says Stravitz. “When you go through a life-threatening illness and you survive, you realize the power of having a buddy you can talk to about how to cope. That was evident in my personal experience, and that’s why I want to help other women.”