At first you will have to be careful not to move your arm too much. But by the second or third day, you may be ready to begin exercises to ease the tension in your arm and shoulder. Women who have axillary sampling usually recover their arm motion fairly quickly because their surgery is not as extensive as axillary dissection.
You will be taking sponge baths for a few days after surgery until your incision starts to heal. Before you leave the hospital, ask the doctor or nurse for instructions on taking care of your incision. When you have permission to bathe or shower, do so gently and pat, don't rub, the area of your incision.
The average stay in the hospital for an axillary dissection is 7 to 10 days, and 2 to 4 days for an axillary sampling. Before you leave, the tube that drains fluid from your incision will be removed. Your stitches will be taken out in 1 to 3 weeks at the doctor's office or clinic.
Once you are home, you should continue to exercise until you have regained the full use of your arm. As you increase your exercise and begin to renew your daily activities, you must be careful not to overexert yourself. Take clues from your body; rest before you become tired.
To keep your skin soft and to promote healing, you may want to massage your incision gently with cocoa butter or vitamin E cream. As time goes by, the redness, bruising, and swelling will disappear. But you should watch for any signs of infection such as inflammation, tenderness, or drainage. If you develop any of these signs or a fever, call your doctor. Although each woman recovers from surgery at her own rate, most women are ready for the next part of their treatment, radiation therapy, about 1 or 2 weeks after their lymph node surgery.