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Turning tragedy into hope

Heidi Cave -
Heidi Cave
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by Monique Tamminga, Black Press

Fifteen years ago, Heidi Cave survived a devastating, fiery crash in Abbotsford that took the life of her best friend and left her with burns to half her body and both feet amputated.

The damage done from the crash – caused by a speeding driver – left Cave, who was 23 at the time, in a coma for two weeks, followed by seven months in the burn unit and then GF Strong rehabilitation centre. In between, she endured multiple surgeries.

Just hearing what Cave – now living in Langley – had to endure in the prime of her young life would make anyone wonder how she carried on.

It turns out she did, with gusto, and now the 38-year-old married mother of two has written a book about her extraordinary story of triumph over tragedy in hopes it can move others to find strength in their own hardships.

The book, published in partnership with Raincoast Publishing, was released July 30 and is available at local bookstores. Cave will be doing a book signing at the Costco location in Abbotsford on Saturday, Aug. 24 from noon to 2 p.m.

The book is called Fancy Feet: Turning Tragedy Into Hope. For Cave, the key message is choosing to be a survivor not a victim.

It would have been easier to be a victim; maybe not happier, but easier, she explains.

"I emerged from a two-week coma to the voice of my boyfriend of just six weeks telling me I was in a car crash that led to the death of my best friend, burns to 52 per cent of my body and my right leg amputated below the knee," she wrote in the introduction to her book.

"As I struggled to piece together what remained of my life, multiple surgeries forced me to be a patient at the burn unit for seven months. My left leg was also amputated and the reckless driver responsible for my situation lied to the police. While so much was beyond my control I was confronted with this question: Will I be a victim or a survivor?"

Cave has shared her story with audiences across Canada, including the B.C. legislature,  and to more than 3,000 firefighters from every state and province in North America at the International Association of Firefighters' Biennial Convention, where she shared the stage with Hillary Clinton.

At times, after she has spoken, people will come up to her and share their own tragedies and hardships, and ask the question, "When did it get better for you?"

"I couldn’t give them a definite answer. There wasn’t a timeline. I just knew that one day I began to feel better, lighter. Sorrow didn’t disappear, but joy found me. I could laugh, a body-shaking laugh, and I felt that joy and sorrow could exist together, side by side," she wrote in her blog.

She named the book and her blog Fancy Feet both for her love of cute shoes and because it "was a quirky, fun take on making peace with my prosthetic legs," she said.

Even with all her public-speaking experience, she finds reading from her book very unnerving. She's hoping it will get easier.

The book is gaining traction and interest from media everywhere. She recently wrote a poignant column in The Province about safe driving for the long weekend – one of B.C.'s deadly times on the road.

Q & A with Heidi Cave about her book and the process of writing it:

BLACK PRESS: How long did it take you to write? Where did you find the time with two young kids?

CAVE: I spent three years in total working on the manuscript. I worked on it for two years before I began to pitch to agents and editors.

As soon as I dropped the kids off at school, I came home to my computer and a coffee and I wrote. They were very curious and sweet about all of it, asking questions about how to write a book. They began to write their own books. There are a lot of great beginnings to stories on pieces of paper around our house.

BP: Was it easy to write your story?

CAVE: I took breaks when it got be too much or if I had just finished a particularly painful part, I would binge-watch TV to shut off for awhile. In order to write this honestly and let the reader in, I had to unearth old emotions and feel everything all over again. I couldn’t have written this book 10 years ago. I had enough distance from the crash and it was the right time. I was healed and insulated enough to go to some dark places. I cried happy, relieved tears when I got the email from my editor that said, “Final edits accepted.” It was done and going to print. After three years I couldn’t quite believe it was going to be an actual book.

It still hasn’t sunk in. I did my first reading of my book to a small audience last week and I don’t know that I have ever been that nervous. I’ve spoken to some big audiences and this was the most vulnerable I had ever felt. I could not make my hands stop shaking!

BP: What are you hoping people will get out of the book?

CAVE: Something extraordinary happened to me, an ordinary girl, and I came through the other side. Everyone has a story, everyone has experienced loss, and even in the darkest moments and places in your life, there is hope. This book is ultimately about the impact and power of hope. You can be a survivor instead of a victim.

BP: How does the family of your best friend who died in the crash feel about the book?

CAVE: They’re supportive.

BP: What's next for Heidi Cave?

CAVE: Book signings, speaking, and continuing to drive my kids around to all of their activities. I’m very involved with the BCPFF burn fund and we’ve been working on fundraising for the Burn Fund Centre that will be built in Vancouver. It will be a headquarters for the burn fund, but primarily it will be a residential space for patients and family of VGH and BC Children’s Hospital. It’s a project that is close to my heart. I am also hoping for a VGH burn unit reunion that could happen in October. I’m very excited about seeing some of the staff again and hopefully some of the firefighters who rescued me.

BP: Where can people purchase your book?

CAVE: You can purchase it at Chapters Langley, Wendel’s in Fort Langley, Costco Abbotsford, Amazon and Indigo.

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