Susan Lucci Says Women Should Feel 'Guilt-Free' About Taking Care of Their Own Health

"We get busy, and we are not even on the to-do list," says Susan Lucci, who has an ongoing collaboration with the American Heart Association

Susan Lucci
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Susan Lucci is speaking candidly about why women need to be their own health advocates.

While chatting with PEOPLE about her ongoing collaboration with the American Heart Association and its Go Red for Women initiative, the 75-year-old actress opened up about how important it is for women of all ages to be in touch with their health.

"As women, we are prone to not want to bother the doctor," she tells PEOPLE exclusively. "We are prone to taking care of our children, of course, and our husband, or significant other, and our homes," she continues. "And we get busy, and we are not even on the to-do list."

Recalling how she initially downplayed "milder symptoms" that eventually led to an emergency heart procedure, Lucci feels a responsibility to share her story.

"I've had the opportunity to say to women, give yourself permission to take care of yourself. You are the caretaker for everyone around you, and if you're not well, they're not going to get taken care of either," Lucci adds. "So be guilt-free, put yourself on that to-do list. Your wellbeing is great for you, and it's great for everyone you love, who loves you."

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Susan Lucci
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Lucci first had feelings of tightness in her chest in 2018. Brushing them off, the All My Children star's heart issues progressed until one day when she was shopping at a boutique in Long Island, New York, and had to sit down to catch her breath.

"At the time when I was actually going through it, I don't think I honestly comprehended how serious it could be," Lucci explains. "But when I was discharged ... the nurses with me said, 'It's such a good thing that you came to the hospital and you acted on your symptoms, because if you hadn't, you would most likely have succumbed to what they call the 'Widowmaker.' It would've been a fatal heart attack.'"

Calling the ordeal a "great wake-up call," Lucci says that she is "so grateful to be given a chance to live my life, to be alive, and so grateful to the doctors, the nurses, the staff and to the manager of the boutique."

"And grateful to my guardian angels, who clearly were with me that day," the Hot in Cleveland star adds.

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Susan Lucci
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Lucci, who exercised and ate healthfully even before her 2018 scare, continues to so these days and says she goes for frequent checkups.

"I like to go every six months. I just like to monitor and see what's going on," she explains. "And I feel that if indeed there were anything to come up, I'd rather know sooner, because I think the sooner you find things, out the better the treatment can be."

Lucci also says maintaining her mental health is important, noting how she takes walks with friends for "some laughs" and "great camaraderie."

"I think a lot of us, men and women, are on call. We are on call all the time. People are calling your name. People need things from you. And you want to do everything ... You are just pulled in a million different directions," she adds. "So find a quiet moment. Maybe a quiet 15 minutes, or a quiet 10 minutes, whatever you can find, that's just a quiet time for you where nobody's calling your name and there are no demands on your time or your brain."

RELATED VIDEO: 'All My Children' Star Susan Lucci Is 'Feeling Great' After Emergency Heart Procedure in 2019

Lucci's partnership with the American Heart Association and its Go Red for Women initiative comes ahead of February's American Heart Month.

"Heart disease ... is the No. 1 killer of women," Lucci says, adding that it "kills seven times more women every year than all cancers put together."

The Emmy-winning actress says the cause is special to her not only as someone who has dealt with heart issues, but also as someone who understands the unequal playing field of men's and women's heart health.

"For men, it's $4.00 per man, for men's heart health research, and for women, it's 17 cents — so that's a huge difference." She adds: "We need to do better, because women are not little men. Every cell in our body is different."

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