More: You have been living with chronic neck pain for years from the accident in August 1987? [According to published reports, Grey and her former beau Matthew Broderick were involved in a car crash in Northern Ireland that left two other people dead.]
Jennifer Grey: Yes. That accident gave me severe whiplash. It was actually a seat belt injury. Although the seat belt saved my life, my neck wasn’t right. But it wasn’t until I had my daughter 10 years ago that things really changed. After I would nurse her, I would fall asleep with her in my arms and my neck would be tilted at an angle. I would wake up with these terrible headaches, and I began to realize there were certain things I could not do anymore.
More: Such as?
JG: I could not pick her up certain ways. My back and neck were bad from carrying her around. I realized I needed to get help.
More: What happened next?
JG: I went to the doctor, who told me I needed to have surgery. I never went to the doctor again because I was so terrified. I stopped doing things that would provoke the pain. I even stopped exercising so I wouldn't aggravate my neck. But then my hands started getting numb.
More: So you called the doctor?
JG: No, I kept putting it off because I was in denial. I didn’t want someone telling me I was in bad shape, and didn't want to face the fact I needed surgery. It was after I got my ninth call to do Dancing with the Stars that I thought, “It might be fun to dance again.” This was also around the time Patrick [Swayze, her co-star in Dirty Dancing] passed away. I began thinking, “I’ve got to live and have fun.” Since I knew my neck couldn’t take the grueling rehearsals DWTS required, I went to see a neurological spine surgeon at D.I.S.C. Sports and Spine Center.
JG: He looked at me and said, “You are not doing that dancing show. Your neck is one of the worst necks I have ever seen and your head is falling off of your spine. If you got rear-ended you would be paralyzed.”
JG: Then he said, “Your legs will stop working, and once you damage your spinal cord there is no repair. You need to fuse your neck.” It was then he detected a spot on my thyroid, which I said was fine and benign. He said, “No it is not. It has to go.”
More: What did you do?
JG: I did the fusion, discovered I had cancer, did the thyroidectomy and then fixed the back of my neck so my hands wouldn’t be numb. After I did those procedures back to back I started to train for Dancing with the Stars.
More: You've had quite the medical ride.
JG: I was using DWTS as the carrot, the goal, the symbol of keeping my eye on the prize of where I wanted to go. I wanted to try and do this, if it was possible. I had just turned 50, Patrick passed away, and I began saying to myself, “If I don’t do the things I love, when will I? I am not getting any younger. I don’t get to go back, so why not do everything I can?”
More: Given what you went through, weren’t you scared?
JG: I trained and trained but was always scared I was going to get hurt. While I was there I worked really hard and kept going further and further. The further I got the more chronic pain I was experiencing.
More: What did you do?
JG: I really had to seek help from my doctors. I had the luxury of having open communication with my doctors, who were there to help me. They even figured out a pain management plan so I could get through the competition. I couldn’t believe I ended up winning because I didn’t think I would make it at all.
More: Knowing your history, why did the doctors sign off on allowing you to do this?
JG: I was under such careful supervision, plus I was texting with my doctor the whole time I was there.