Australian Story on ABC – Erica Packer reveals the recurring fear that plagues her thoughts – will she be the next woman in her family to get breast cancer? 

Doctors say she’s right to be worried. A family tree highlights the many women on her mother’s side who have died from the disease.

“Breast cancer has been a fatal thing in my family,” Erica says. 

Her sister Jo Hunter was diagnosed at the age of 39, the same year their mother Sheelah Baxter died after 12 years of treatment for breast cancer.  

She also lost her aunt and grandmother and many of her mum’s cousins. 

The family story all points to the cancer being hereditary. But as far as they know, they don’t carry any of the known breast cancer gene mutations. The deadly family legacy is still a genetic mystery.  

At the direction of doctors, Erica undergoes intensive screening every six months for breast cancer, always wondering if this time the news will be bad. 

“You’re sort of put in this very vulnerable position of, is it this time?,” Erica says. 

The ex-model and former wife of James Packer, one of Australia’s richest men, is a long-term supporter of breast cancer causes, as is her sister Jo.

Erica is a patron of the National Breast Cancer Foundation which supports scientific research at the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne. There, scientists and doctors are looking at pinpointing the hereditary genes responsible for the breast cancers of thousands of Australian families. The hope is for better screening and treatment options.  

Australian Story goes on the road with the sisters, from their birthplace of Gunnedah to Sydney, Melbourne and London as they explore the deadly mystery at the heart of their family.   

Australian Story – Monday 4 September, 2023 at 8:00pm on ABC and ABC iview

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Australian Story on ABC