Tracey Emin on her diagnosis: ‘My mother died of the same cancer but I didn’t think I’d have it’

Telegraph reporters
·2 min read
The artist Tracey Emin, who has revealed her treatment for a serious form of cancer - AP
The artist Tracey Emin, who has revealed her treatment for a serious form of cancer - AP

The artist Tracey Emin has revealed that during lockdown she was diagnosed with a potentially fatal bladder cancer.

Speaking to The Telegraph for a forthcoming interview, the 57-year-old Royal Academician referred to the squamous cell cancer as “f---ing evil”, and described the extensive surgery she recently underwent.

“During lockdown,” Emin said, “I was getting more and more ill. I got an appointment with my urogynaecologist and she found a giant tumour. I didn’t know it was a tumour then, but I had an MRI scan the next day and a phone call that night saying, ‘You’re going nowhere, you’re doing nothing – you’re going straight to hospital.’ 

“And then, within 26 days, I had surgery. I had my bladder removed, a full hysterectomy, I had my urethra removed, my lymph nodes removed and half my vagina.”

Emin, speaking in advance of a new show at the Royal Academy in London, also revealed that “my mother died of the same cancer – but I didn’t think I’d have it.” The artist’s mother, Pam, died in 2016.

“When I had the camera put inside me, up into my bladder, I saw what it looked like and I thought, ‘Oh my god, I didn’t think cancer looked like that. And they said, ‘What did you think cancer looked like?’ I said, ‘Like a sort of black throbbing stone that emanates evil throughout your body’… [But] it was red and yellow, really horrible, and there was all this stuff – like a mountain range.”

Emin, who was shortlisted for the Turner Prize in 1999, admitted that she became reconciled to the worst. “If it was really bad news and I was only going to have till Christmas, it [seemed] OK, because I would have 6 months to sort everything out.

“And I was OK, because I was really happy with my work, and there were other elements in my life that were so fantastic and good, whereas a year ago, everything was not good for me and [I] felt terrible.”

The experience, she says, has given her “the strength to change my life completely… I’m nearly 60 and I’ve decided to throw all my cards up in the air.”

“I’ve had some really s----y things happen to me – so it’s just another thing to add to Tracey’s list – and I’m kind of used to it.”

The exhibition, Tracey Emin/Edvard Munch: The Loneliness of the Soul, will open at the Royal Academy on November 15