Within a couple of weeks, Lauren Corduck received two pieces of news — the first bad, the second devastating. And in tandem, those strokes of misfortune four years ago led her to found an organization that has already begun saving and prolonging lives.
At a friend’s urging, she sought a DNA test that revealed that she had the BRCA1 gene mutation and was at increased risk for certain cancers. Soon after, an MRI that Ms. Corduck had undergone to diagnose agonizing lower back pain “revealed an incidental finding of what turned out to be stage IV ovarian cancer,” she later wrote.
Meanwhile, she was shocked that physicians had never encouraged her to be genetically tested, especially after she learned that because of her Ashkenazi Jewish heritage, she had a 1-in-40 chance of carrying a high-risk mutation of the BRCA genes, significantly higher than the general population.
“My jaw just dropped,” she told the Globe in 2017. “How did I get to be the age of 45 without knowing this? I’m well-educated. I live in the epicenter of world-class medical care.”
Ms. Corduck, who was 49 when she died Thursday of cancer that had metastasized, spent the rest of her post-diagnosis life working to ensure that those predisposed to having BRCA mutations would seek genetic tests that let her know, too late, that she should have taken steps to reduce her cancer risks.
“What we’re trying to do is turn our legacy burden into our legacy,” said Ms. Corduck, who had lived in Acton, in a 2018 interview posted on the Mass General Cancer Center website.
While undergoing chemotherapy in early 2017, she researched her diagnosis, but found no websites or organizations that specifically focused “on the Jewish population with Eastern European heritage,” she told Jewish Boston last year.
So she decided to found her own. Ms. Corduck, who had years of experience working in nonprofits, helped launch Oneinforty, named for the increased odds that those of her background face.
The oneinforty.org website features links to testing resources and support, along with essays by those who share their own stories about learning they were BRCA-positive.
“Saving lives is what Oneinforty is all about,” one woman wrote.
And helping others was what Ms. Corduck was all about.
“The overriding thing with Lauren was that, even as a young child, she always had a sense of right and wrong,” said her father, Bob Cooperstein of Wayland.
Robb Corduck, whom she married in 2006, recalled that throughout their time together, “we always used to laugh about this. She said, ‘You make the money and I’ll save the world.’ That was sort of the contract we had.”
Ms. Corduck had worked for nonprofits her entire career and “she always wanted to start her own,” her father said.
“She always wanted to help people,” he added, “and of course, she found her mission because of her own illness.”
Lauren M. Cooperstein was born in Boston on Jan. 31, 1971, and she and her younger brother, Matthew, grew up in in Sherborn.
Their father, Bob, is a retired chief executive of a footwear importing company. Their mother, Betty Ollman, is a social worker.
Ms. Corduck graduated from Dover-Sherborn High School, where she was one of a few Jewish students and occasionally encountered anti-Semitism, but she was mostly struck by how homogenous the school was, her parents said.
So she went to the University of Wisconsin in Madison, where there was more diversity among the students. As an undergraduate, “she and a couple of her friends started the first student-led food bank,” her father said.
They gathered surplus food from supermarkets and restaurants and made it available for the poor.
“She wanted to be able to help save the world, for want of a better expression,” her father said.
“She was one of the very first people we knew who made sure everything was separated for recycling,” her mother said.
Ms. Corduck, who later received a master’s in nonprofit management from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, also harbored a concern for nature and the environment that began at summer camp as a youth and carried into adulthood.
A few years ago, when the family lived in Roslindale, Ms. Corduck’s daughter attended Sumner Elementary School. While leading fund-raising efforts, Ms. Corduck launched efforts for parents and children to make, market, and sell biodegradable laundry detergent.
In her professional life, she worked with the nonprofits National Foundation for Teaching Entrepreneurship and Neighborhoods of America before becoming executive director of Solutions at Work in Cambridge.
She and Robb had a daughter, Esther, who is 13, and adopted their son, Bram, who is 6.
“She imbued them with her sense of the environment and social justice causes,” Robb said. “She was always working with them.”
Ms. Corduck’s husband, children, parents, and brother are her immediate survivors.
The family will hold a private graveside service Monday in Woodlawn Cemetery in Acton. A celebration of her life will be announced next year.
Though she was in remission for a time during her cancer treatment, Ms. Corduck brought a sense of urgency to her work creating and running Oneinforty.
“It’s like I can hear the cancer forming in other people’s bodies as we speak,” she told the Globe in 2017. “We need help raising awareness.”
In the Mass General Cancer Center interview, she spoke of how cancer patients “feel a lot of pressure to find that silver lining and put on a brave or a strong face. I kind of reject all that because this sucks. This is messy. It’s horrible to be diagnosed with cancer.”
Still, she added, “I feel very fulfilled now. I have never felt so fulfilled in my career. I have never felt so present in my life, mindful, and appreciative of all that I have.”
“She would show her emotions and she wanted others to show their emotions,” her mother said, adding that “she certainly made me a better person.”
Robb said that among Ms. Corduck’s “biggest gifts was that she was, in my humble opinion, almost insanely open with very intimate details, with people she had literally just met. My natural reaction is to be more reserved. Her natural reaction was to blurt it out. The lesson of that is, maybe I need to be less reserved.”
It’s impossible to quantify how many lives her openness will save or prolong via her efforts with Oneinforty.
“Building Oneinforty has been the best ‘medicine’ for me and my loved ones,” she wrote last year in an article for the American Journal of Managed Care. “We regularly hear from men and women who have learned of their hereditary cancer risk from Oneinforty and decided to get screened for the BRCA gene mutations.”
When she founded Oneinforty, she added, her mission was “to prevent what happened to me and my family from happening to anyone else.”
Bryan Marquard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.