Tracey Emin shares the painful reality - and an extraordinary selfie - of life without a bladder

 (Tracey Emin)
(Tracey Emin)

Tracey Emin has laid bare the realities of life post bladder cancer.

Writing in The Independent on International Women’s Day, the artist - who features on The Independent’slist of most influential women - describes in stark detail what it is like to live without a bladder after hers was removed in an operation in 2020.

Left with a stoma - an opening in her stomach - she has to rely on a bag, which collects all the waste from her body and regularly spills over.

Emin has released an extraordinary photograph of herself, standing in front of a full length mirror in which her white urostomy bag can be clearly seen. She has created an exclusive acrylic on canvas artwork for The Independent to mark the day, entitled Marriage to Myself.

Tracey Emin has created an exlusive acrylic for The Independent (The Independent/Tracey Emin)
Tracey Emin has created an exlusive acrylic for The Independent (The Independent/Tracey Emin)

Describing the unpredictable nature of urine leaving her body, she writes unflinchingly: “I usually have about a minute before the urine starts to pour out of my stoma, sometimes it’s a small drizzle and other times its completely out of control, its like Russian roulette, I have to dry as much of myself before putting on a new bag, all this now is second nature.”

In particular, Emin recalls the pain she experienced while attending Andreas Kronthaler’s - the fashion designer and widow of Vivienne Westwood - Paris show a few days ago.

Emin was a close friend of Westwood’s, who died last December, but could not attend the funeral because of her health. Emin promised Kronthaler she would attend his show, but describes how her health then worsened, recounting that she felt “more unwell than I had in a long time”.

“I’m in chronic pain I swear to god that there’s not one single part of my body that doesn’t hurt,” she writes, recalling her emotions on the day.

While in her hotel bathroom, she emptied her urostomy bag, which collects the urine from the stoma, and recalls the terrible smell.

“I can still smell the stench and I go to get one of the small fluffy, fluffy, fluffy towels and lay it on the floor, the white fluffy begins to immediately stain a pretty peachy orange,” she writes.

Afterwards, Emin describes seeing “terrible, black sunken eyes, grey skin, dry tight lips” in the mirror and outlined her struggle taking pills which made her “feel ill”.

“I stare into the mirror a strong light from above illuminates every wrinkle and flaw, my body looks old,” she writes. “My bag looks giant today I hate it but most days I’m philosophical knowing that it keeps me alive but today I feel like it will drag me down to hell.”

Dressing for the fashion show, Emin describes the pain in her “hands and feet” and adds that “just the idea of anything tight” touching her body put her “into mental pain.”

“I go to the toilet and empty my bag, the pan is a crimson red a splash of colour in all the white a tint of pink,” she recalls.

“I look in the mirror and spray the top of my bag with adhesive remover, I peel it back my stoma is bleeding,” she continues before describing how she cleaned it with a medical wipe and scrim.

She tells how she had to change into a skirt with an elasticated waist when getting ready for the show because she could feel the bag “pressing against my dress”.

When she arrived, she sat diagonally opposite Anna Winter, and adds dispassionately: “My tube dangled beneath my coat I could see the blood and piss running through it as I tucked my bag under my seat”.

Emin goes on to reflect on how she has adjusted to her changing health circumstances.

“At the beginning I was tearful and confused it’s hard coming to terms with a new hole in your body, my bags kept leaking and I kept making mistakes,” she writes.

“I think it was down to the vast quantities of morphine I had to take, I felt nothing just numbness at the beginning.”

She also describes an incident when her bag fell off in a branch of Chanel on London’s Bond Street, unleashing a “tsunami of piss cascading down my body crashing to the champagne carpeted floor”.

Chanel was understanding, she says, and sent her a bouqet of flowers.

Despite her severe health challenges, Emin says she has “achieved more in the last three years” than in the rest of her life.

“I’m more content than I’ve ever been and with all its hell and disabilities; the cancer has made me like myself so much more”, she writes.