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Brain tumor survivor Peter McCabe of Hinsdale leads 'Minds Matter' effort

Peter McCabe, a brain tumor surviror, discusses his rehab and his passion for golf Sept. 19 in the backyard of his Hinsdale home. (Matthew Piechalak –
Peter McCabe, a brain tumor surviror, discusses his rehab and his passion for golf Sept. 19 in the backyard of his Hinsdale home. (Matthew Piechalak –

HINSDALE – On the opening track of their 1966 album of the same name, Simon & Garfunkel harmonize the line, “Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme,” not to simply sing about herbs, but to express deeper metaphors from medieval folklore – spirituality, strength, faithfulness and courage.

Years later, Peter McCabe would model his own garden after the song with the same melodic care.

“It’s not really a hobby, it’s more of a passion we have is the yard,” said McCabe, 53, of Hinsdale.

Along with aromatic herbs, McCabe grows an array of vegetables as well, including peppers and tomatoes. As an addition to the garden, McCabe prides himself on having one of the most tranquil backyards in all of Hinsdale with planted flowers and a patio overlooking the trimmed grass and tall fence.

“I’m out clipping trees and pulling ivy out of the ground, so it’s difficult yard work, in fact yard work I would prefer not to be doing, but I am,” McCabe said. “I am because I can.”

Many people would see yard work simply as a chore. The trial lawyer is no different, but it’s a chore that comes with more satisfaction today than just making his yard look pretty.

In May 2009, McCabe suffered a seizure in his home – the first symptom to what would later that afternoon be diagnosed as a brain tumor.

McCabe said because of the large size of the tumor, it had to be removed. After several interviews with surgeons, McCabe chose Dr. James Chandler, a neurosurgeon at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, to perform the operation a few weeks after diagnosis.

“Every tumor case has its challenges,” Chandler said, who has performed more than 3,500 brain surgeries. “I suppose the issue with [McCabe] is that it was large and it was putting a significant amount of pressure on the motor cortex of his brain, which affected the right arm and hand in particular.”

In McCabe’s case, the tumor “poked through” the dura, which is the area between the brain and the skull. In order to make sure the tumor never came back, Chandler had to remove part of the brain below the dura.

“That caused me some physical problems on my right side, particularly with my right arm and right hand, but with therapy I was able to return 90, 95 percent,” McCabe said.

Even at the time of diagnosis, McCabe said he was never scared. Maybe it was his own personal parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme, but it was his faith that also carried him through the troubling time.

“It’s interesting, a lot of people said, ‘That’s terrible, that’s terrible,’ but mostly in fact every single one of them I said the lord is going to take care of me and he did,” he said.

McCabe and his wife, Cindy, have now co-chaired the “Minds Matter” fundraiser for the Northwestern Brain Tumor Institute (NBTI) since 2011. NBTI is dedicated to brain and spinal cord tumor research, treatment and care.

“For somebody who in some ways is still recovering, it’s impressive to see how much Pete and his wife contribute their time to help others,” Chandler said, who is the co-director of the NBTI.

Today McCabe is doing quite well. As a “ball” sport fan, he may not be able to play basketball just yet, but he is playing golf and shot a 104 just a few weeks ago. Within four months of his operation, he was also able to try a jury court case, and won.

In the months following his operation, McCabe said he became a lot more patient with people and more empathetic toward those that are going through illnesses, particularly with brain tumors and brain related injuries.

“Medical science has come a long way so there are a lot of treatments that will if not eliminate the tumor at least reduce it and give you a quality of life that did not exist for brain tumor patients even five years ago,” he said.

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