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Fundraiser aims to help ghost hunter with cancer

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Posted at 7:00 AM, Feb 12, 2016
and last updated 2016-02-12 07:44:46-05

COVINGTON, Ky. -- Valentine’s Day isn’t just a day to share love with romantic partners.

For Wanda Kay Stephenson – known to many simply as Wanda Kay – this Valentine’s Day will be a day for receiving love and support from family and friends.

Everyone from musicians to ghost hunters will rally together Sunday at the Madison Theater in Covington, 730 Madison Ave., to raise money for Stephenson, who is has stage 4 kidney cancer.

“I just want her to feel the love that people have for her,” said her daughter, Christina Martin.

Depending who you ask, Stephenson could be known for anything from singing to painting and even leading tours of haunted historic buildings.

“She’s been involved in so many different things,” Martin said.

Growing up in Northern Kentucky, she often watched her father perform at Bobby Mackey’s Music World in Wilder, Kentucky. Martin said her mother was from a "very musical family.”

Stephenson began her own music career in the 1970s, singing with the band Sandy Land. Wayne Stephenson, whom she married in the early 1990s, played bass in the band.

With the group, they traveled the U.S., opening for bands such as Shenandoah and Confederate Railroad.

When they weren’t performing, they worked as artists of a different kind, painting windows for grocery stores, banks and car dealerships from Northern Kentucky to Dayton.

While Stephenson’s awareness of the paranormal started at a young age, she kept fairly quiet about her experiences until the early 2000s.

“She sheltered us from that,” said Martin, the youngest of Wanda Kay’s three daughters. “I don’t think she wanted to scare us growing up.”

While working as a DJ at Bobby Mackey’s, Stephenson began operating the notoriously haunted nightclub’s gift shop and training people to conduct tours of the bar on weekends. She even wrote the tour guides’ book, “Wicked They Walk,” which traces the history of the site back to the 1600s.

She soon began guiding her own weeknight tours, often hosting crews for paranormal reality shows and parapsychologists. Observing the ghost hunters, she witnessed PA equipment randomly shutting down, unexplained cellphone activity and rattling doors.

Some of the strangest and most frightening phenomena, she said, included seeing a woman thrown about 20 feet by a phantom assailant and being pushed by an unseen entity.

Stephenson eventually left Bobby Mackey’s and started her own ghost shop in Newport. There, she sold ghost-hunting supplies and offered tours of Newport’s historic Thompson House, gambling museum and the Monmouth Street Antique Gallery.

“She doesn’t want people to forget about these historical locations,” said Chris Maggard, founder of Tri-State Paranormal of Northern Kentucky.

Maggard met Stephenson while filming for paranormal reality TV show "The Search: Existence Unknown."

“When she gets involved in something, whether it’s DJing or tours at Bobby Mackey’s, she puts a lot of heart and passion into it,” Maggard said.

She put so much of her heart and passion into her endeavors that she missed the signs that something was wrong with her health. After fighting through what appeared to be influenza or bronchitis, she was still feeling weak and tired.

She went to the hospital the week before Thanksgiving, thinking she had pneumonia. Instead, doctors discovered an 8.4-centimeter tumor on her kidney, which had spread into her bloodstream and her lungs.

“I didn’t know being tired was a symptom of anything,” Stephenson said. “I found out being tired is the biggest giveaway for someone who has cancer.”

Diagnosed with stage 4 renal cell carcinoma, she had her kidney removed and began taking oral chemotherapy pills. Despite the efforts, doctors recently told her she has a life expectancy of about six months.

But Stephenson isn’t giving up.

“We’re just going to keep going 'til I can’t go no more,” she said.

When friends and family heard of her illness, they were quick to ask how they could help.

“She’s a person that was always willing to help other people,” said Esther Johnson, owner of Madison Theater.

Johnson has known Stephenson for at least 30 years as a neighbor and previously as fellow Parent Teacher Association member. Because Stephenson also offered Johnson assistance as a musician and booking agent, offering Madison Theater for a fundraising benefit seemed like a natural way to return the favor.

“It’s kind of a bittersweet type thing to do,” Johnson said. “I’ve worked with her on a lot of projects, just not one like this.”

The event, which runs from 1:30-10 p.m., will include live music performed by Rapid Fire, 6 Gunz South and Blue Jelly, among others, as well as raffles and a silent auction.

With no income or health insurance, Stephenson hopes the money raised from the event will help pay for medical care, other living expenses and burial costs.

Regardless of how much money is raised, she’s looking forward to seeing family and friends, some of whom she hasn’t seen in a long time.

“At least it’ll be closure, and I’ll get to see everybody one more time,” she said.

For those who can't make it to the benefit but want to help out, donations can be made at any U.S. Bank location or through Wanda Kay's GoFundMe page.