Did Catherine die on Grey's Anatomy? Here's the real life story that inspired the emotional episode

1 February 2019, 21:01

Katie Louise Smith

By Katie Louise Smith

Catherine Fox's cancer storyline on Grey's Anatomy was inspired by co-executive producer Elisabeth R. Finch's real life experience.

Grey's Anatomy was up to it's old tricks again this week, delivering one of the most unexpectedly emotional episodes we've seen in a very long time. Along with all the new love triangles and blossoming relationships between our fave surgeons, fans have been heavily invested in Catherine Fox's heartbreaking cancer storyline and in the latest episode, it all came to a head.

Catherine (played by the inimitable Debbie Allen) was diagnosed with cancer (Chondrosarcoma) earlier in season 15. The cancer couldn't be treated chemo and was near impossible to cut out without paralysing her, or killing her. In this week's episode, titled 'The Winner Takes It All', Catherine undergoes the surgery to remove the life-threatening cancer and the show really really felt like it was setting us all up for that long over-due devastating loss we've all been dreading.

But the surprisingly emotional ending wasn't what any of us were expecting. Catherine's surgery didn't quite go as planned, but there's a reason for that - and it's all do to with a real life story that her outcome was based on.

Did Catherine survive the surgery?

Did Catherine survive of Grey's Anatomy?
Did Catherine survive of Grey's Anatomy? Picture: ABC

After a very emotional dance party that felt like a big farewell scene and some pretty heavy conversations with both husband Richard and son Jackson, Catherine ends up surviving surgery but like we said, it didn't go according to Tom Koracick and Amelia Shepherd's big master plan.

During the surgery, a problem arises that could cost Catherine her arm meaning should she survive, there's no way she would be able to continue on as a surgeon. In the end, Catherine is left with a small piece of the tumour to keep her spine in tact. She's not completely cured (95% of the tumour is removed) and Catherine will now have to live cancer for the rest of her life. But she's alive.

She later wakes up, she's talking and is able to move her arms and legs. Mission accomplished (kind of). She might have to spend the rest of her life having treatments and scans but ultimately, Catherine will live to spend more time with her family and live another day to help save other people's lives.

The outcome of Catherine's storyline was actually inspired by co-executive producer of the show, Elisabeth R. Finch, who is living with cancer herself. Speaking to E! News, Finch spoke about how Catherine's journey, surgery and outcome was almost identical to hers.

"You know, Catherine is a very different person than I am fundamentally, but it's the same... I had the same type of cancer, Chondrosarcoma."

"The majority of my tumour was shrunk with chemo and dealt with in very different medical ways. But some of it remains and may always remain, and that's true of Catherine as well, so Catherine will be walking in the world as a person living with cancer in a similar way that I do."

Finch also hopes that the reality that her and Catherine now share will help normalise and bring hope to people who are also living with cancer.

“I may live with cancer the rest of my life. Because it's a chronic condition, I identify as a person with a disability,” Finch writes in her THR essay about her story. “I have a full life of work and friendship and love and travel and failure and joy. But I've never seen that version of cancer, that version of ability on television.”