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Former 'Grey's Anatomy' writer admits she faked cancer diagnosis

Elisabeth Finch told the Hollywood-focused newsletter The Ankler that she has “never had any form of cancer" after she spent years fooling her colleagues until her wife allegedly outed her to producers.
Elisabeth Finch during a panel discussion in 2019.
Elisabeth Finch during a panel discussion in Burbank, Calif., in 2019.Todd Wawrychuk / Disney General Entertainment via Getty Images file

A former co-producer and writer for "Grey's Anatomy" spent years faking a cancer diagnosis, which she used to inspire a storyline on the long-running hit show and fool her colleagues until her wife allegedly outed her to producers, she admitted in a story published Wednesday.

Elisabeth Finch, who also wrote for HBO’s “True Blood,” told the Hollywood-focused newsletter The Ankler that she has "never had any form of cancer."

“I told a lie when I was 34 years old and it was the biggest mistake of my life,” said Finch, 44. “It just got bigger and bigger and bigger and got buried deeper and deeper inside me.”

Finch, who IMDb notes was credited with writing 13 "Grey's Anatomy" episodes and producing 172 episodes, told colleagues on the show that she had been diagnosed with a rare form of bone cancer, chondrosarcoma, a decade ago, which she also wrote about for Elle Magazine, The Hollywood Reporter and other publications.

In a 2019 piece she wrote for The Hollywood Reporter — which was still online Thursday afternoon — Finch said her own diagnosis inspired a storyline for the "Grey's Anatomy" character Catherine Fox, played by Debbie Allen.

Disney, the parent company of ABC, and Shondaland, the company Shonda Rhimes founded in 2005 to produce "Grey's Anatomy," put Finch on leave in March as they investigated allegations that she was faking her diagnosis after Finch's wife was alleged to have tipped them off soon after she found out about the lie, The Ankler reported. The couple are divorcing.

Finch’s wife did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday. Representatives for ABC and Shondaland also did not respond to requests for comment.

Finch wound up leaving the show before an investigation could begin and checked herself into an inpatient treatment facility in Arizona, according to the newsletter.

“What I did was wrong. Not okay. F----d up. All the words," Finch said.

A former colleague from "Grey's Anatomy" told The Ankler that Finch appeared as though she had lost her hair and that she “regularly took breaks to vomit” and “only ate saltines for long periods of time.”

The newsletter also alleged that Finch “taped a dummy catheter to her arm and shaved her hair to feign that she was undergoing chemotherapy.”

Of those actions and how they affected people on the set, Finch told the newsletter that “one of the things that makes it so hard is that they did rally around a false narrative that I gave.”

She also told The Ankler that she started lying about cancer after she had knee replacement surgery at age 34 and people in her life were "so supportive."

Lying, she said, was "my coping and my way to feel safe and seen and heard" after the support ended following her surgery; she also alleged that physical and emotional abuse by her brother throughout her childhood contributed to her lies.

Finch’s brother could not immediately be reached for comment Thursday.

According to The Ankler, Finch also falsely claimed her brother died by suicide in 2019 — he is alive and working as a doctor in Florida — and falsely claimed that she lost a close friend in the 2018 antisemitic terrorist attack at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.

Dr. Marc D. Feldman, a professor of psychiatry and an adjunct professor of psychology at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa, who is the author of "Dying to be Ill: True Stories of Medical Deception," told The Ankler that Finch's case sounds like "a classic case of factitious disorder," which the Mayo Clinic defines as "a serious mental disorder in which someone deceives others by appearing sick, by purposely getting sick or by self-injury," the cause of which is unknown.

Finch did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment Thursday.

"Grey's Anatomy," which debuted in 2005, is in its 19th season. The show, which won a 2007 Golden Globe Award for best drama television series, stars Ellen Pompeo, who is also a producer and recently announced her departure from the show.