JENNIFER GREY USES HER CELEBRITY STATUS TO HELP PEOPLE SUFFERING FROM CHRONIC PAIN
Jennifer Grey’s journey with pain might sound familiar to a lot of people. After a car accident left the Golden Globe-nominated actress with constant and often excruciating neck pain, Grey tried to ignore her injury, telling herself that she could deal with the hurt by minimizing it. The tactic worked for a while, albeit unsatisfactorily, but when the opportunity arose for Grey to perform on television’s hit show Dancing with the Stars, she knew it was time to confront her pain once and for all.
“I had basically given up or was in denial,” Grey says. “I didn’t realize how bad the pain was until I sought help. I guess I was afraid of what I would find. But looking back, I realize that I spent so much time, energy and money trying to put a Band-Aid on something that required much more attention.”
PUBLIC LIFE, PRIVATE PAIN
Grey is adored by millions of fans around the world and well known for her roles in two iconic 1980’s movies: Dirty Dancing and Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. She enhanced her status as a favorite celebrity in many households when she won the 11th season of Dancing with the Stars in 2010, and now she hopes to use her star status to help others find their own answers in combating chronic pain.
“I had adapted my life around my pain,” Grey recalls. “It’s like that example about a frog in hot water. If you put a frog in boiling hot water, it will jump out. But if you put a frog in cold water and then gradually heat it to boiling, the frog stays in, even when the water gets hot. It’s a gruesome example, but that’s a perfect metaphor for the insidiousness of chronic pain. You grow used to it.
“When the offer came to do Dancing with the Stars, I went to my doctor to find out if it was a good idea because of my neck pain,” continues Grey. “He found that my spinal cord was so compressed that I was literally about to be paralyzed. He also discovered that the lump I had ignored in my neck was actually thyroid cancer.
“I had surgery, and after that I started a multidisciplinary treatment approach,” Grey says. “I now have things I have to do every day, but I look at it as part of my job. I do exercises that have been specifically prescribed for me, and I really believe in massage and meditation. I meditate every day, and I’ve found that I can experience pain, but without suffering.
“I recently went to New York and didn’t do my exercises for four days. When I got home, I was literally in my bed, and I realized then that you can’t put chronic pain on hold. You have to know what exacerbates your pain and try to be really mindful of those things.”
WORKING WITH PARTNERS AGAINST PAIN
Grey recently became a spokesperson for Partners Against Pain, a national education program from Purdue Pharma. As part of their “Hands On Approach for Pain Management” campaign, Grey recorded a video for them (it is no longer available but you can hear Grey’s story in this video). She hopes telling her story will encourage the thousands of people who are suffering in silence.
“The idea that someone is suffering, and they don’t have to, is powerful to me, and what’s outlined on the website is very good,” Grey explains. “Now all I want to do is reach out to other people and help them understand that there are things they can do to treat their pain. Nothing makes me happier.”
Partners Against Pain provides many online pain management tools. A Daily Pain Diary allows individuals to record and understand their pain, the efficacy of their medications and any side effects. The Pain Management Log helps track what activities correspond with pain and the results of medications and other therapies. Grey says these are important and useful tools to becoming your own best advocate and working effectively with healthcare professionals.
“I think one of the biggest impediments to finding relief is when people are ‘muddled,’” she says. “They might go into the doctor’s office and have a hard time expressing what they are feeling or how bad the pain is.
A pain journal is really helpful because it allows patients to write down what their day is really like.
“Most doctors don’t have a lot of time to spend with their patients, so you have to be as organized and prepared as you can be. Rehearse what you are going to say with your family or a friend and then spend the first moments of the doctor visit going over what you’ve rehearsed. Do some research and know what your options are. Partners Against Pain is a great place to start. And realize that if the doctor doesn’t treat you with dignity or respect, you have to move on. Find the right doctor and use your time well.”
Since winning Dancing with the Stars, Grey has kept a busy schedule that leaves little room for pain-related down time. She appeared in Bling Ring, a Lifetime movie about a Hollywood burglary gang that targets celebrities, and she and her husband wrote a screenplay that they hope to make into a movie in the near future. Grey is also working on her memoir and is preparing to travel to London with her family to appear as a judge on the British version of Dancing with the Stars. It’s a demanding agenda, but Grey acknowledges that she wouldn’t change a thing.
“I’m just loving my life right now,” she says. “Because I’m in control of my pain, I can do pretty much anything. I am so grateful to Dr. Robert Bray, the doctor who performed my surgery. I feel like he gave me my life back.”
While Grey’s happy ending might seem like the finale of an Oscar-winning movie, the charismatic mother of a nine-year-old daughter wants every person suffering from pain to know that they have options as well. She adds that achieving a successful outcome involves both perseverance and realistic expectations.
“People have to determine what level of pain they can deal with, because having a goal of zero pain might be unrealistic,” Grey says. “It’s about you controlling your pain instead of your pain controlling you.“The life I have now started when I finally decided to return to my dream of dancing, which I had given up because of my neck pain,” concludes Grey. “I faced my fears and as a result, I’m now very happy and very grateful. If your life has become a living hell because of your pain, you have to fight. There is always something else to do.