Grey's Anatomy, Debbie Allen
Credit: ABC

With her cancer returning and her tumor being more serious than ever, it’s understandable why fans have questions over if Catherine Fox is leaving Grey’s Anatomy and if she’ll die.

Grey’s Anatomy is ABC’s medical drama following the personal and professional lives of surgical interns, residents and attendings at Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital (previously known as Seattle Grace Hospital and Seattle Grace Mercy West) in Seattle, Washington. Debbie Allen plays Catherine Fox, a pet-time surgeon at Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital and the founder and current board chairwoman of the Catherine Fox Foundation. Allen, who is also an executive producer on Grey’s Anatomy, made her debut as Catherine in 2011.

While Catherine — who is also the mother of Jackson Avery, Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital’s former Chief of Plastic Surgery — has never been a series regular on Grey’s Anatomy, she’s still been an important part of the show for more than a decade. With her health now in question, fans are left with just two questions: Is Catherine Fox leaving Grey’s Anatomy and will she die? Read on for what we know about if Catherine Fox is leaving Grey’s Anatomy ahead.

Is Catherine Fox leaving Grey’s Anatomy?

Grey's Anatomy, Debbie Allen

Is Catherine Fox leaving Grey’s Anatomy? Catherine Avery Fox was diagnosed with a large spinal tumor in season 15, episode 7, “Anybody Have a Map?” after the neck and back pain she had been experiencing for weeks had become intolerable. Catherine had scans done, which showed that she had a large spinal tumor. She called doctors Tom Koracick and Meredith Grey, surgeons at Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital at the time, to Los Aneles, California, where she lived, under the guise their services were for a VIP patient. When Tom and Meredith arrived, Catherine revealed that she, in fact, was the patient. Tom and Koracick performed a biopsy to look for the cancer, and found that the tumor was very aggressive.

Catherine underwent surgery for the tumor in season 15, episode 11, “The Winner Takes It All.” The plan was for the team at Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital to remove the tumor in pieces, however, due to complications, the surgeons had to open her from the front as well as the back. Despite the complications, the surgeons were able to remove most of the tumor except for a small piece that was too risky to remove. When Catherine woke up from the surgery and was told that a small piece of the tumor was left behind, she told the surgeons what was important was that she lived.  While the surgery went well, Catherine was told that she’d need frequent scans to check on the tumor and would live with cancer probably for the rest of her life.

Fast forward to season 19, episode 10, “Sisters Are Doin’ It For Themselves,” where it’s revealed that Catherine’s cancer has progressed. During the episode, Catherine uses alternative medicine to treat her cancer while keeping her tumor’s progress a secret from her husband, Richard Webber. Catherine is forced to tell Richard, however, when he realizes that her reiki healer was for “pain management.” “I know something is wrong,” Richard says to Catherine. “I know you’re trying to protect me. But, whatever it is, I’m ready to hear it.” In the end, Catherine tells Richard, “My cancer is progressing.”

Grey's Anatomy, Debbie Allen

So is Catherine leaving Grey’s Anatomy and will she die? The answer is unclear, but it is possible. Catherine’s cancer storyline on Grey’s Anatomy came from a lie told by writer Elisabeth Finch. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly in 2019, Finch alleged that Catherine’s cancer storyline — and the detail that the surgeons had to leave behind a small piece of cancer in her spine — was inspired by her own battle with chondrosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer she was allegedly diagnosed with in 2012. “I have a small tumor at the base of my spine they cannot shrink or remove. I receive treatment and frequent scans to make sure it doesn’t grow,” Finch said. “I am a person living with cancer, and that may never change. I am strong. And capable. And medical advances happen all the time, so I can’t predict the future. But I have made peace with where I am at present, which is a person with a disablity, a person living with cancer.”

Finch — who claimed that the chemotherapy for the tumor caused her to lose a kidney, lose part of her leg and have an abortion — alleged in the interview that Grey’s Anatomy showrunner Krista Vernoff told her to write the storyline after Finch explained in the writers’ room why she didn’t like words like “battle” and “fight” when describing cancer. “Krista Vernoff heard me talking one day in the room about how much I hated the words ‘battle,’ ‘fight,’ ‘win,’ ‘lose’ when it comes to cancer. How hurtful it is, how destructive it can be to someone with cancer,” she said. “Because what is winning? What is losing? Does that mean someone who died of cancer just didn’t fight hard enough? She asked me if I’d consider writing a story similar to my own, of someone living with cancer. Someone who has an illness they’re managing but still has a full life, a job and family and friends.”

Finch continued, “Most stories about cancer, the person is either dead or cured. There is no in-between. But I live in the in-between. And there are more people like me out there with chronic illnesses who are desperate to see themselves represented on television. I am lucky as hell that Krista encouraged this story, and that a show like Grey’s can follow Catherine as she moves forward, managing her cancer.”

In March 2022, news broke that Finch had lied about her cancer story. Finch confirmed the report in an interview with The Ankner in December 2022, in which she confessed that she “never had any form of cancer” and called the lie the “biggest mistake of her life.” “What I did was wrong,” she said. “Not okay. F—ed up. All the words.” Finch also admitted to lying about her older brother Eric’s suicide, who is still alive and working as a doctor in Florida. “I know it’s absolutely wrong what I did,” she said. “I lied and there’s no excuse for it. But there’s context for it. The best way I can explain it is when you experience a level of trauma, a lot of people adopt a maladaptive coping mechanism. Some people drink to hide or forget things. Drug addicts try to alter their reality. Some people cut. I lied. That was my coping and my way to feel safe and seen and heard.”

Grey's Anatomy, Debbie AllenDEBBIE ALLEN

In the interview, Finch explained that the lie started after she suffered a knee injury in 2007 and wanted more “support and attention” from her friends and family. “Everyone was so amazing and so wonderful leading up to all the surgeries. They were so supportive,” she said of her friends and family’s initial response to her injury. “And then I got my knee replacement. It was one hell of a recovery period and then it was dead quiet because everyone, naturally, was like, ‘Yay! You’re healed.'” She continued, “But it was dead quiet,” she continued. “And I had no support and went back to my old maladaptive coping mechanism — I lied and made something up because I needed support and attention and that’s the way I went after it. That’s where that lie started — in that silence.”

According to Vanity Fair, Finch’s wife, Jennifer Beyer, who worked as a registered nurse, was the first person to discover Finch’s lie and demanded that she tell her friends and family the truth. When Finch refused to do so, Beyer contacted Shondaland, the production company behind Grey’s Anatomy, and The Walt Disney Company, which owns the network Grey’s Anatomy airs on, ABC. Finch was placed on administrative leave from Grey’s Anatomy before she ultimately resigned. Finch and Beyer are also in the process of divorcing, she’s been disallowed to see her children, and her family members have disowned her.

“I wish I had a grid that would show who’s not talking to me because they can’t [legally],” she told The Ankner. “Who’s not talking to me because they don’t know what to say. Who’s not talking to me because they’re pissed off. And then who’s sitting there waiting for me to reach out. I have no clue … it’s been a very quiet, very sad time.” She continued, “There were people who, when [the] article came out, were immediately very, very nasty on text. Family and friends who called me ‘a monster’ and ‘a fraud’ and said that’s all I’ll ever be known for and soon, more truth would come out.”

Given that the re-emergence of Catherine’s cancer on Grey’s Anatomy comes a year after Finch was placed on administrative leave, it’s possible that the show could be rewriting the storyline  to be less favorable to Catherine now knowing it was based on a lie. Regardless of if Catherines dies or lives on Grey’s Anatomy, Debbie Allen, who plays Catherine, will still be a part of the show. Allen has worked as an executive producer on Grey’s Anatomy since 2011 and has directed more than 31 episodes of the series.

Grey’s Anatomy airs Thursday at 9 p.m. on ABC.

For more on Grey’s Anatomy, check out our photo gallery on the Grey’s Anatomy cast’s real-life relationships