The little matter of Natural Killer Cells

Time to pick up our story, its 2011 and we had by this point had a fresh cycle that ended up with no embryo transfer because of over stimulation plus 3 failed frozen embryo transfers.  That’s 6 embryos, no positive test and a whole barrel full of hurt and heartache.  We were very lucky that we lived in an area where we had 2 NHS funded cycles, so we still had high hopes because we had another cycle of treatment to try to get us to a positive outcome.

Before the IVF clinic would let me cycle again Frog Camerathey referred me for a hysteroscopy.  For anyone that doesn’t know what that is, its basically a camera inserted into your uterus via your vijayjay.  They wanted to look for anything that may be causing our IVF failure.  In November 2011 I was put under general anaesthetic for the short procedure.  I came around from the procedure and I was told I had a heart shaped uterus (sounded kind of lovely to me) but they hadn’t found anything wrong and the heart shape shouldn’t cause any problems with conceiving.  Phew, a bit of good news at last.  We were told we had to wait to see the consultant again before we could request treatment.  I went home and took the week off work.  I was exhausted, tired of the whole thing.  There was seemingly no reason why this IVF wouldn’t work.  It was upsetting and so frustrating.  We had to wait until March 2012 to see the consultant.  So yet more waiting.  IVF teaches you one thing…patience.  We wait and hope, wait and hope.

We walked into the consultants room and her first words were “You’ve been through a lot”.  No shit Sherlock.  She scanned our file and said that she wanted to send me for a hysteroscopy.  WHAT?  I said that I had already had one.  She said there was no record of it on file.  WHAT?  She then went on to say that if there had been an issue they would have told me before I was discharged so it must all be fine.  Were we actually hearing this right?  I’d had a procedure, we’d waited nearly 6 months for a follow up and yet there was no record of it on file.  This was going well.  We then went on to ask her about preventing OHSS next time.  She said they would do everything they could to prevent it, I would be monitored a bit more closely and they would give me metformin which may also help.  By this point in our treatment journey I had been doing lots of research.  The online forum I was part of became the place I turned to for hope and for information on other tests & treatment.  The clinic we were with didn’t buy into the immune issue school of thought (I will talk about this more in future posts) but on pushing her a little she said she would refer me to a clinic in Coventry for a Natural Killer Cell test.  She was happy to refer me because she used to work with the Dr leading the research.  So we came away with a referral, a treatment plan and most of all we came away with renewed hope.  We were happy to try anything at this point, anything that would give us the positive outcome we both desperately wanted.

It wasn’t too long before our referral came through and we went to see the Dr in Coventry.  We had a consultation and she explained the theory behind the test.  In very basic terms, a piece of the lining is scraped away and they test it to see what level of Natural Killer Cells are present.  If the NK Cells are high then the theory goes that they kill off the embryo whilst its trying to implant and hence implantation does not occur.  The good news was that if the levels were high then she suggested we treat it with steroids, which is supposed to calm the system down and prevent the implantation failure.  I’m not a Doctor so that’s my very basic interpretation.  A few weeks later I was back in Coventry having my lining scraped away, holy shit it hurt.  She told me to take paracetamol before the procedure, which I did, but it still hurt like hell.  It only took a few minutes and it was done.  Yet another thing my body had to go through to try to find some reason that IVF kept failing.  The sample would be tested and then I would have a phone consultation with her a few weeks later with the results.

The results were in…I had raised Natural Killer Cells.  My body could be attacking our Natural-Killer-Cellembryos.  I wasn’t sure whether to be upset that we had yet another issue or whether to be happy that we potentially found the missing piece in the jigsaw.  The treatment plan seemed relatively simple, I would need to take steroids with my next IVF cycle.  OK, it was another drug but if it did the trick then I was happy to give it a go.  I read lots of stories on line about it working for people who had taken steroids, it was going to be ok, this was going to be answer.

So, we had a clear plan.  We went back to the IVF clinic armed with the results from Coventry.  We picked up the prescription, went through the treatment protocol with a nurse and asked if I needed a reminder on injections.  Errrrm that will be a no then, having injected for 4 previous cycles, I think I got that sorted.  During that appointment I started to panic about getting OHSS again.  She reassured me over and over again that it was unlikely that I would get it again.  I sat there shaking, I don’t think I can do this again, I said.  I was in a complete state of panic.

We left the appointment, bag of drugs and a bag full of hope.  C tried to re-assure me that it would be ok, that they wouldn’t let me overstimulate again and that this time we would have a fresh transfer.  We had a new treatment added in with the steroids.  This was going to work.  I wanted to believe it, I really did.  There was just a big shadow of doubt starting to creep in, was this ever going to work.  I knew what I was about to embark on and it scared the hell out of me.  I tried so hard to move forward with positivity, I kept telling myself I would be fine once the injections started.  I just had to find the strength and courage to do it again.

Another year had passed and still we didn’t have a family.  I was having to go through the same thing we embarked on 2 years earlier.  We were still on the starting blocks and we couldn’t seem to get past the false starts.  In the summer of 2012 the decision was made, the wheels were in motion, cycle number 5 was about to begin.  I was utterly terrified.

I will leave it there for now.  It has been strange to look back on those many months of waiting, preparing and receiving yet more news about our infertility diagnosis.  It was no longer just a male factor issue, it had become more complicated.  I felt like I was becoming more and more distant from the world around me as I plunged into another cycle of IVF.  No-one understood the path that we were walking, we got bemused looks when trying to explain the Killer Cells and most of all we picked up on the worry that those close to us had about me being ill again.  I felt like I was in a vacuum being sucked in and I couldn’t escape.  I was moving further and further away from those around us, I felt like we were walking this path alone.  We were in this until it was done, no matter how long it took we were going to keep going.

We always held onto two things, one was hope and the other was each other.

You are not alone

4 thoughts on “The little matter of Natural Killer Cells

  1. Sounds like this was a really tough time in your journey! I never got tested for NK cells, mostly because I was just too scared!
    Awful that the doctors got things so mixed up and confused but unfortunately this happens way too often!!’
    Your doing a fab job of relaying your story! I’m sure it will inspire so many and raise awareness of infertility issues!

    Liked by 1 person

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