Swayze and Grey in Dirty Dancing
09/14/2010 AT 01:00 PM EDT
A year after her Dirty Dancing
costar's death from pancreatic cancer
, Jennifer Grey says she wouldn't be competing on Dancing With the Stars
if it weren't for Patrick Swayze – and the example he set of living life to the fullest in the face of any daunting challenge.
"Patrick was one of the most fearless people I've ever met," the actress, 50, tells Access Hollywood
. "[He] really embraced life and was all about going for it."
Grey, herself a thyroid-cancer survivor, says she took Swayze's way of living to heart – that it's important to embrace opportunities in the limited time you have to enjoy them.
"Life is short, baby. It is fragile. It is fleeting," Grey says. "And just because someone is there one minute, it does not mean they are going to be there the next. Once you feel that, and you can smell that kind of fragility, you've got to take some kind of action to counteract that."
Though it's daunting, Grey realized she couldn't pass up an opportunity like DWTS
. "If not now . . . when?" she asks. "When are you supposed to reclaim the joy that you had as a young person?"
Asked how she would feel if Swayze's widow, Lisa Niemi, came out to support her when Dancing
begins next Monday, Grey said she would be honored. "I would be so grateful if she did, and if she didn't, I feel her support," Grey says. "She e-mailed me. She just said that she is rooting for me and proud of me."