Tracey Emin has said that “love” instead of art saved her from her battle with bladder cancer after revealing that she had “fallen” for someone shortly before her diagnosis.
The 58-year-old artist who was completely free from bladder cancer eight months ago appeared on The Cultural Life of BBC Radio 4 and told host Wilson that she was diagnosed last year when she was at her happiest.
About last year, when she fell in love, Emin said, “Every time in my life I say ‘I’m so happy’ that something terrible happened. I sat on my roof, with my feet on the slates, and I thought, “God, I’m so happy.” A few weeks later I was diagnosed with almost terminal cancer.’
“Love saved me this time, not art. I fell in love just before I found out I had cancer. I once made a neon saying “everything is different when you fall in love.” It is, the rain is different, the wind is different… everything is much higher. You see colors more intensely, you feel everything.’
The 58-year-old was diagnosed early last year after discovering a tumor in her bladder while working on a painting of a malignant lump.
The artist revealed that “love” rather than art saved her from battling bladder cancer after falling for someone shortly before her diagnosis. Pictured at the GQ Men of the Year Awards, arrivals at the Tate Modern in London on September 5, 2017
When asked how love helped her through it, she continued, “I think if I hadn’t felt love, I would have just run away. I just think I’m held and real and have something tangible on this earth… I was also all alone for 10 years without any affection, love or anything.
“So suddenly the reality of human flesh and everything is real, I thought, ‘You know what?’ I really want to die. I think my willpower got into it in a different way.”
Tracey, known for her controversial works including Everyone I Have Ever Slept With and My Bed, went on to explain how she accepted that her cancer would probably end her life.
“I thought, ‘I’m probably going to die by Christmas. Let’s put that there and just keep living.’ I have become even happier. I’ve almost become a little enlightened.’
She went on to talk about how accepting death made life more positive and continued: ‘It meant I didn’t have to fight death, which meant I could focus’ [on life]. If you’re drowning, try to relax as much as possible because you’ll float to the top.
She had surgery last summer, when many of her reproductive organs were removed and she was given an ostomy bag
“If you fight it and panic, you swallow water and drown. That’s what I did. I thought ‘I’m probably going to die’… and I just surfaced again.’
She also shared how she was written off as a “narcissistic, deranged, yelling banshee” and claimed she was “overlooked” as an artist.
Her most recent exhibitions include a 2018 neon sign in London’s St Pancras station that reads ‘I want my time with you’ and last year her paintings, neons and sculptures were presented at the Royal Academy.
WHAT IS BLACK CANCER?
Bladder cancer is caused by a tumor that develops in the lining of the bladder or the muscle of the organ.
According to figures, about 10,200 new cases are diagnosed each year in the UK and 81,400 people in the US.
It is the 10th most common cancer in the UK – but slightly more common in the US – and accounts for about three percent of all cases.
The cancer is more common in men and has a 10-year survival rate of about 50 percent. About half of the cases are considered preventable.
Symptoms of the disease include blood in the urine, having to urinate more often or more urgently than usual, and pelvic pain.
However, unexpected weight loss and leg swelling can also be signs of the deadly disease.
Smoking and exposure to chemicals in plastics and paint at work can increase your risk of developing bladder cancer.
Treatment varies depending on how advanced the cancer is and may include surgery, radiotherapy, or chemotherapy.
Source: NHS Choices
When asked if her painting had been overlooked, she replied, “No, I think I’ve been overlooked. I think they just thought I was some kind of narcissistic, deranged, yelling banshee.”
She also shared that life as an artist is “really lonely.”
“You can’t be an artist hanging out at a giant party, that’s never going to work,” she said.
“There’s a part of you that has to go deep inside, as I say, ‘into the cave,’ and if you don’t enter the cave, you’ll never make art. You have to be able to stand and see yourself in order to make the art.”
Emin had discovered a tumor in her bladder in early 2020 while working on a painting of a malignant lump.
The artist suffered from very aggressive squamous cell cancer, which surgeons feared would kill her within months if it spread to her lymph nodes.
As a result, it was decided to remove not only her bladder, but also her uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, lymph nodes, urethra, and part of her colon and vagina.
Prior to surgery, the artist said she stayed up 24 hours with her lawyer rewriting her will before sending an email to 70 friends with the news about her cancer, telling them to “Don’t contact me.”
She previously told Emma Barnett on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour that after recent scans showed she is cancer free, she is now focused on enjoying life despite chronic pain and wearing an ostomy bag.
She said, “Sounds weird, but I’ve never been happier. So some people would be very unhappy in my situation right now. But I realize how wonderful my life is. And I’ve never realized that before.’
Emin compared her major surgery to having a child or gender reassignment, saying, “I think anyone who’s had this kind of dramatic surgery understands what I’m talking about. But actually there aren’t that many people.
“It’s probably the same as maybe someone who’s had a gender reassignment, about what you’d have to do to get it back.” Right now I’m just really happy to have my life back. And I’m not greedy.’
The artist admitted that she fluctuates from “crazy happy” to “Oh dear, now I have to work on it.”
Tracey told Barnett: “I think it’s kind of like having a baby – you have a baby and you’re pregnant and it’s really hard, the pregnancy, and then you have the baby and you’re like, ‘Now it’s the rest of my life’.
She added: “With this surgery and with everything, I’m so glad I’m still alive. And now I have to deal with the consequences of it all.”
The artist said she is now transitioning to annual cancer scans.
Career Highlights of Tracey Emin
1995, Everyone I Have Ever Slept With 1963-95: This piece first brought Tracey Emin more fame, both in the art world and with the general public
1999, My Bed: The piece is Emin’s record of several days spent in bed in the throes of depression. The bed is not made and the sheets are stained. There are all kinds of things everywhere, such as condoms, birth control pills, underwear stained with menstrual blood, money and cigarette butts. The work was nominated for the Turner Prize in 1999 and received extremely mixed reactions from the public and press
2001, The Perfect Place to Grow: This work pays tribute to the artist’s Turkish Cypriot father, who, she says, is a fantastic gardener but a terrible carpenter. It consists of a wooden birdhouse-like structure on wooden poles
2004, Hate and Power Can be a Terrible Thing: This Appliqued Blanket Work is a blistering attack on Margaret Thatcher and her participation in the 1982 Falklands War
2011, I Promise To Love You: In the 2000s, Emin began working extensively with neon lighting. These works feature words and sentences in her handwriting. Pictured, 2011 neon sculpture I Promise To Love You