12/01/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

How John McCain Could Think Pink and Redeem his Reputation as a Hero

The Straight Talk Express is off the rails. Republicans are deserting him in droves. The John McCain brand is broken, badly in need of repair.

To fix it up, McCain might try a swing through a supermarket, where I just bought cream cheese in a pink container and a pink ribbon at the checkout stand. Those are only a few examples of how breast awareness is brought into our lives every October--to raise money for research and remind us of the need for a cure.

October wasn't always pink. In the mid 1970's when I made a documentary about breast cancer, the disease was rarely discussed, and few women were willing to show their faces. Everything changed once Betty Ford publicly announced her mastectomy. It took an act of courage and character by a public figure to bring the disease out into the light, to change thinking---and ultimately, to save millions of lives.
Betty Ford provides an example of how a famous person can transform a private struggle into a public contribution--and why John McCain needs to think pink.

He has endured four battles against malignant melanoma, a more malicious killer than breast cancer. But unlike the open attitude of Betty Ford, McCain closed his medical records to the public and closed off the conversation that the American people deserved to hear. Even worse, during his campaign, the American public saw McCain constantly appear in public in the middle of the daytime sun, even in Florida. Dermatologists agree that sunblock does not provide enough protection and recommend a broad-brimmed hat..

So McCain's behavior is risky and dangerous---for his own health and for others at high risk for melanoma. And it reinforces a feeing of denial when he should be doing the opposite---because the best protection against melanoma---is prevention.

Obviously McCain wants to appear vital and healthy---rather than reminding Americans that he is a 72-year-old skin cancer magnet. But his disregard of medical reality leads to a dangerous complacency when the ozone layer is disappearing and 62,000 new cases will be diagnosed just this year.

As a breast cancer survivor, I'm proud to be pink---but I also lost my mother to melanoma when she was 41. In the coming years, global warming almost guarantees a continuing and dramatic increase in melanoma. As the world's most famous melanoma survivor, McCain's leadership could transform the cause, and save lives.

Which is why, WHEN McCain loses the election, I propose that he dust off his image as a hero---and become one. If he does, we would have McCain to thank if someday, during Melanoma Awareness month, we can go to to the supermarket and buy cream cheese in yellow containers, to remind us of the sun, to raise awareness, and hopefully, to help find a cure.