What's it like? Depends on how many lumps they're removing. The surgery's a big nothing if, like one friend of mine, you've just got a speck, "crystals" on a mammogram, no cancer, you're in and out the same day, "no big deal," an aspiration. Pain levels go up according to the number of lumps (lymph nodes, actually) removed. I was advised they'd be taking out eight-to-ten, and although I'm sore, I got out of the hospital on the same weekend I went in. Here's what to expect:
1. Doctor drawing magic marker lines where he or she is planning to cut. This is done while you're gooey with ultrasound gel.
2. Mammogram plus insertion of wire in breast (yeouch!) in order to help the surgeon find the tumor that chemotherapy shrunk.
3. Photo op: "just from chin to waist!" they said, but of course, you're naked and have a lot of tape and bandages on the breast with the wire dangling from it.
4. Surgery. I don't remember too much about this part, except the slight bungle with anesthesia: while a large amount of it was being chugged into my arm, the nurse had neglected to remove the very tight blood pressure cuff on my upper arm. Result: the kind of pain you feel if your hand gets slammed in a car door. This problem was quickly remedied and I don't remember the rest.
5. Wake up very thirsty and hungry. Get fed. Discover that you are wearing two vacuum bottles attached to tubes extending from the incisions: this is your drainage system, and when there's the right amount of lymph, blood, and goo in there, you get to have the tubes removed and go home.
6. Yes, it does hurt when those tubes are removed, but only for a moment, but yes, about three times as much as a shot.
7. Photo op two! The "after" shots.
8. You put on your compression bra, for which you were fitted back around step 2, and keep it on pretty much for the next three weeks, unless you're taking a shower.
9. The black ones really have dominatrix look. Smile back at your image: you've earned the look.