Tracey Emin has said her cancer is “gone” but she will have to live the rest of her life with a major disability.
The artist told BBC Two’s Newsnight she reached a “big, big milestone” last week when her three-monthly scans were “all clear”.
Emin was diagnosed with bladder cancer last year. Following an acclaimed show at the Royal Academy in December inspired by the Norwegian painter Edvard Munch, she said she was not working because she was too ill.
“I’m not painting because I’m using my willpower to stay alive. That’s what I’m doing,” she told the programme, in an interview to be broadcast on Friday evening.
But Emin said that over the coming years she hoped to put her energy back into art, as well as “being happy, smiling more, just enjoying life”.
“I never realised how much I wanted to live until I thought I was going to die,” she said.
In July, she was admitted to hospital where 12 surgeons worked for six hours to remove a large tumour from her bladder. They cut out her uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, lymph nodes, part of her colon, urethra and some of her vagina.
She now has a urostomy bag, which replaces the bladder and urinary system. It was a “major disability” because it needed to be emptied as frequently as every 20 minutes, she said.
“You never know when it’s going to happen,” she said. The extensive surgery meant her bladder cancer “couldn’t actually latch on to anything else”. Following the clear three-monthly scan, she would move to annual scans, she said.
The Margate-based artist, 57, said when she began working on the Royal Academy of Arts exhibition four years ago, she had “no idea that there was a possibility that I was never going to see this show”.
Tracey Emin/Edvard Munch: The Loneliness of the Soul is scheduled to reopen at the Royal Academy on 18 May, its run having been curtailed by England’s third national lockdown.
Emin, whose paintings are being shown alongside works by Edvard Munch, said she resisted suggestions to cancel the show before the lockdown because “if something happens to me, what else have I got? I’ve just got to do this.”
The government made a “big mistake” in categorising museums and galleries alongside nightclubs when it came to reopening, she said, describing the decision as “absolutely ridiculous”.
“I think it’s because the majority of the government at the moment have never probably been to museums or art galleries,” she said. “If they had and if they knew the soulful benefits of looking at art, they would have kept them open or found some system to make it work.”