Jennifer Grey Talks Taking 'Dancing' Inspiration From 'Fearless' Patrick Swayze

Jennifer Grey and Derek Hough in their "Dancing with the Stars" cast photo (left), Patrick Swayze in 2007 (right) Jennifer Grey and Derek Hough in their "Dancing with the Stars" cast photo (left), Patrick Swayze in 2007 (right)

Patrick Swayze was one of the early celebrity supporters of “Dancing with the Stars,” and one year after his death, his “Dirty Dancing” co-star and new “DWTS” contender, Jennifer Grey, remembered the actor fondly.

“Patrick was one of the most fearless people I’ve ever met,” Jennifer told Access Hollywood’s Shaun Robinson, of the star, who lost his brave battle with pancreatic cancer on September 14, 2009. “[He] really embraced life and was all about going for it.”

Jennifer revealed that she herself survived a battle with cancer, a disease that was brought to her attention when she was being courted for the ABC dancing competition.

“When I first decided to consider doing the show, I went to get my neck checked out because it was hurting me for a long time,” Jennifer explained, referring to an injury sustained in a horrific car accident in Ireland in 1987. “[My doctor] said, ‘You can’t do that Jen, you’ll get paralyzed if you fall… So you need to fuse your neck.’”

However, that wasn’t the only problem facing Jennifer.

The actress revealed that as she prepared to have her spine fused, her surgeon noticed a lump on her neck, which was later discovered to be thyroid cancer.

“He said, ‘That doesn’t look right to me… you need to get that out,’” she recounted. “So a month after my fusion, I went and got half of my thyroid out and they said it’s probably fine and then four days later they called and they said [you’ve] got cancer. So they took the other half out at Christmas Eve.”

Although it was a frightening discovery, Jennifer has a positive outlook on her health scare.

“The great thing about thyroid cancer, it’s the one to get because it is curative. I don’t consider myself in the same league as people who have had to go through chemotherapy. It’s a very fortunate cancer. I feel very grateful,” she added. “I shouldn’t have anymore problems with it and will obviously be walking through whatever fears as it comes up from now on.”

Jennifer didn’t indicate whether or not she’s 100 percent cancer free.

Jennifer, now a cancer survivor, said Patrick’s way of living, despite his disease, was part of the inspiration that lead her back to embracing opportunities like “Dancing.”

“I have been living my life very differently [to how Patrick lived his], and right now — especially since his passing, and my surgeries and having had cancer myself, and turning 50, and seeing so many of my friends with cancer who are my age — it’s kind of [an] epidemic,” she said. “And I have to say, it’s given me a sense of: If not now… when? When are you supposed to reclaim the joy that you had as a young person.”

Jennifer said her daughter Stella growing up (she turns 9 in December), was also an inspiration to take life by the horns. She told Shaun she wanted to inspire her daughter not to let fear stop her.

“Life is short baby, it is fragile it is fleeting and just ‘cause someone is there one minute it does not mean they are gonna be there the next,” Jennifer said. “Once you feel that, and you can smell that kind of fragility, you gotta take some kind of action to counter act that.”

Shaun asked Jennifer if there was any chance Lisa Niemi, wife of the late actor, might come out to support her as she begins her “DWTS” battle for the mirrorball next week, Jennifer said she would welcome it in a heartbeat.

“I would be so grateful if she did, and if she didn’t, I feel her support,” Jennifer said. “She e-mailed me. She just said that she is rooting for me and proud of me.”

“Dancing with the Stars” Season 11 premieres on ABC on September 20 at 8 PM.

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