jennifer grey isas 2010 large 'Dancing With the Stars' saves Jennifer Grey's life. Literally.Jennifer Grey says that even before she begins “Dancing With the Stars,” it has been a life-saver for her. Literally.

Iconic as Patrick Swayze‘s swaying partner Baby (who “nobody puts in a corner”) in the classic 1987 movie “Dirty Dancing,” the actress will compete in the 11th season of the ABC contest starting Monday, Sept. 20. If it seems a no-brainer that she’d be invited onto the show, she says she was asked many times, but only last year did she really begin to consider it.

And she might not be here now if she hadn’t.

“Last year, my neck was killing me,” she tells Zap2it, “so I said to them, ‘Let me have it checked out and see if I even could do this.’ I went to this neurological spine surgeon who I heard was the best. I knew he had operated on Karina [Smirnoff, one of the ‘Dancing’ pros], and I figured I would tell him I wanted to do ‘Dancing With the Stars’ and ask him what I needed to get through it.”

The reply was more than Grey had bargained for: “I’d had a really bad car accident years ago, and basically, the ligaments in the back of my neck were ripped and I’d never addressed that. It degenerated, and the surgeon said, ‘Right now, your spinal cord is compressed. If you fell or got rear-ended, you’d be paralyzed.'”

And there was more, as Grey underwent the process of having her neck fused. She recalls, “He also said to me, ‘What’s that lump in your neck?’ I said, ‘Oh, it’s just a benign nodule that I’ve been watching for four years.’ I didn’t want to have surgery for it, but he said, ‘That has to go.’ They took out half of it, and it turned out to be cancerous. Then they took the second half out on Christmas Eve.”

Finally, the doctor recommended one more surgery “in the back of my neck, to clean out the nerves that were compressed,” as Grey describes it. “Now, I’ve got a new neck. And I also have no cancer.”

To say that Grey is now ready to go “Dancing With the Stars,” then, is a major understatement. A wife and mother — married to actor and screenwriter Clark Gregg, formerly of “The New Adventures of Old Christine” — the daughter of award-winning talent Joel Grey (“Cabaret”) considers “Dancing” to be “the catalyst for all of this.

“I was so frightened of the surgery, I didn’t want to even consider that it would be successful. And it was so successful, I proceeded to do everything else on my ‘to-do’ list that I was afraid of, including doing this show. I figure that if I don’t do it now, I’ll be too old for it. My body is clearly giving out.”

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Posted by:Jay Bobbin