Iris Mini: Coping with Amputation and Preparing for Loss

Processing the loss of a body part can be one of the most challenging aspects of a cancer diagnosis. If you are planning for an amputation (the surgical removal of a bodily limb), it is natural to feel overwhelmed and scared.

The body is sacred and highly personal. It is essential to how we see ourselves, relate to others, and function in the world. The idea of there being a permanent change to your body can be understandably distressing.

As you begin to consider surgery, keep in mind that it is natural to experience profound feelings of grief and loss. Here are some considerations for coping with grief:

  • Be kind to yourself and give yourself permission to experience the range of emotions including sadness, fear, and anger that you may be experiencing.

  • While honoring a sense of loss and sadness, try to be compassionate towards yourself. Be mindful of other losses / traumas that you may be experiencing now or of any feelings associated with past trauma that may be resurfacing as you navigate this challenging point in your cancer experience.

  • Keep in mind that grief exists on a continuum. It is natural to experience grief before the actual event (surgery) occurs. You may experience loss as soon as you learn of the cancer diagnosis itself. Surgical amputation may represent another type of loss or trauma with which you are grappling.

Enlist the support of a mental health therapist, such as an Iris mental health therapist, prior to surgery to thoughtfully process and adjust to the anticipated changes. It may be helpful to keep in mind a surgical amputation requires a consent process and often a waiting time.

Take advantage of the time leading up to surgery to learn about the surgery and the implications of it on your functioning and overall quality of life. What types of support are available to help you as you rehabilitate from surgery?

Ask questions of the medical team and enlist support from loved ones so that you can feel as prepared as possible for this next chapter.

Here are some other helpful considerations as you prepare for surgery:

  • Engage your medical team and ask questions related to the surgery as well as what to anticipate with recovery and rehabilitation-related needs.

  • Utilize your support network in a way that is helpful to you. While it can be difficult at times to speak up or communicate your needs with others, it may be useful to let others in your life know what kind of support is helpful and what is not as helpful. Consider these Iris Minis on Asking for What You Need and Social Support Strategies.

  • Engage your medical team and ask questions related to the surgery as well as what to anticipate with recovery and rehabilitation-related needs.

  • Connect with others who have been through a similar experience (see resource section for more information). While others in your life may be supportive, it can be comforting to know that you are not alone and to learn from others. How have others navigated the physical and emotional changes associated with amputation in the days, weeks, and months following surgery?

As you process and prepare for surgery, try to make space for the possibility of the unexcepted.

Here are some questions to keep in mind as you prepare for this next chapter of your life:

  • While your body will be forever changed from surgery, are there aspects of the changed body that you might come to honor or respect?

  • If you are considering a prosthesis, will it enable you to participate in certain activities or aspects of life that have been challenging?

  • Keep in mind “the big picture” - how does the benefit of going through surgery outweigh the risks to your health if you do not pursue surgery?


Freysteinson et al., (2017) A Study of the Amputee Experience of Viewing Self in the Mirror. Rehabilitation Nursing. 42(1):22-32. doi: 10.1002/rnj.256.

Rosca et al., (2021) Psychological Consequences in Patients with Amputation of a Limb. An Interpretative-Phenomenological Analysis: Frontiers in Psychology. 12: 537493. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2021.537493.