When The Glitzy, Gritty New York I Loved Nearly Killed Me, My Little Hometown Saved Me

It was love at first sight for New York, but it didn't last.

Glity New York almost killed me, woman looking longingly over Brooklyn bridge Andy Lee | Unsplash, Syda Productions | Canva

A few years out of college, I bailed on the Wisconsin farm town where I’d grown up for the bright lights of New York City. And when my adopted city nearly killed me, my little hometown saved me.

It was love at first sight for New York and me. I adored its grit, its glamor, and its hustle. Broadway dazzled me. Celebrities seemed everywhere. Mikhail Baryshnikov sat in a box next to mine at Carnegie Hall. 


Author's headshot when she first moved to New York Photo from author

Running late to meet a friend at the Metropolitan Opera, I’d grab a Sabrett’s hot dog, wipe the ketchup off my mouth, and drop into my seat just as the Viennese crystal chandeliers withdrew into the ceiling. I got mugged. Maybe I shouldn’t have worn that Future Farmers of America jacket! It was headline news in my hometown newspaper.


My inner circle included actors, writers, musicians, a banker here, and a lawyer there. We all came from somewhere else. We were New Yorkers by choice and desire, drawn to the city by its siren song.

Author on Coney Island boardwalk Photo from author

I met a guy. Love, marriage, kids, mortgages. On 9/11, six months pregnant, I trudged up Tenth Avenue, one drop in a river of hundreds of thousands, maybe millions, all walking north, away from the black clouds billowing into the sky behind us.


“Maybe you should go home to Wisconsin,” my husband said.

“No,” I said. “We’re all staying in New York.”

RELATED: The Reality Of Being A Country Girl Living In The Big City

I lost my job. Tension built. The marriage started to flounder. I wrote about a “Can this marriage be saved?” weekend and The New York Times ran it in Metropolitan Diary. Everyone who read it laughed. Except my husband.

I kept my hometown in my back pocket, taking my kids back to Wisconsin for summer and Christmas. My rationale? “They need to know what America is like west of the George Washington Bridge,” I’d say. But honestly, it was because my hometown felt kinder than New York and the man I was living with.


The marriage blew up in a firestorm. I traded divorce lawyers and financial advisors with girlfriends I’d once swapped outfits with. A meteor called COVID crashed into New York.

“Cuomo wants to shut down New York. He’s gonna close the bridges and tunnels,” I heard from an insider at the NYPD. “Get out now.”

In less than 24 hours, my youngest, her dog, and I were driving west. I watched the GW Bridge disappear in my rearview mirror as we headed to my hometown. That spring and early summer in Wisconsin we had COVID cocktail parties on my mother’s lawn and did takeout Friday night fish fries and brandy old-fashioned with cousins and neighbors.

And then, we returned to a  New York that was looking more valiant to me than it had since 9/11. I had to put the triplex apartment my ex and I still owned on the market. I got an offer in a few weeks. And then the co-op board changed the requirements for the buyers. Repeatedly. I fumed. Really, New York?


RELATED: Do These 3 Things And You'll Be Over Your Divorce Before You Know It

Finally, divorce over, apartment sold, and COVID waning, I was ready to start my next chapter. Abruptly, lumps popped up on my neck. The endocrinologist who had biopsied suspicious nodules on my thyroid for years couldn’t see me. Thanks, New York, I thought bitterly. I found new doctors. I had surgery.

You have cancer,” the surgeon said. And she handed me a printout. “Stage 4,” I read. “Average survival rate of 6 months.”

There was one sentence of hope. “There are long-term survivors.” I decided to be one of them. And I told everyone I trusted in a password-protected blog. I shared it with family and friends, a lot of them in my hometown.


And one of my first blog posts? “Sayonara New York,” I wrote. “It is over, baby. We are done.”

And I left New York, going straight to the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, Texas.  My friends responded with heart emojis, love, encouragement, and kindness.

I had a second surgery. I wrote about my surgeon, who wore the biggest, fanciest pair of cowboy boots. I’d ever seen. I wrote about my radiation team, and the way Imagine Dragons’ “Radioactive” came on as I got zapped. And throughout, friends and family cheered me on. “You are a warrior!” “This cancer doesn’t have a chance.” And, “I love you, cuz.”

RELATED: My Name Is Kate And I Was Diagnosed With Stage-4 Cancer


After five weeks of radiation and chemo, my kids joined me to ring those celebratory bells. And then we all flew home for Thanksgiving. Home meant Wisconsin. Not New York.

I started immunotherapy, then Car T cell treatment. Two years after that diagnosis, I published my memoir. I wrote about all of it: New York, love, marriage, heartbreak. And that diagnosis.

A member of my hometown library board who was a second cousin twice removed and had been a year ahead of me in high school asked, “Will you do a reading of your book at the library?”


“Are you kidding?” I said. I’d learned to read at that library. I’d finished my memoir in that library. The fines I paid for overdue books helped fund an addition to that library!

The night of the reading approached. Temperatures had been below zero for a week. A foot of snow covered the ground. Who the heck would haul themselves out on a night like this? I thought. “Drinks at the Cork and Barrel after the reading!” I posted on Facebook. Maybe the thought of a brandy old-fashioned will get a few people to come out.

The night of the reading, I drove to the library. Snowdrifts piled high. A stiff wind blew. I sprinted from my rental car to the library, eyes tearing up from the cold. As I ran, I noticed something. The street is lined with cars.


The librarians had filled one room with chairs. They were full. The librarians hauled out more chairs to fill an adjacent room. They filled. And some people still had to stand. My friends from kindergarten on, some of my teachers, friends from the street I’d grown up on, from my mother’s church, cousins, and an old boyfriend. Someone from almost every facet of my life in my hometown showed up on that bitter winter night. For me.

I looked at all the faces I knew so well and had known for so long. And in that instant, I realized that my hometown is my essence, it was what made me. And when New York nearly killed me, my hometown saved me. It always will.

RELATED: How Three Cows Helped Me Get Over My Divorce

Kate Rice is a lifestyle writer, Your Tango contributor, and the author of Cured: Beating Stage 4 Cancer and the Culture That Caused It. She lives in Park City, Utah, where she is a ski instructor and rock ’n’ roll radio DJ.