The Kosovo connection: Friends work to support woman dealing with breast cancer

Lance Shearer

Laura Gunga, Miranda Skinner and Nora Halimi are members of an exclusive sorority.

All three Marco Islanders come from Kosovo, and to the best of their knowledge, said Skinner, they are the only ones on Marco Island from there. The shared country of origin (although Nora was born in this country of a Kosovar father), and the ability to speak to each other in their native Albanian, created a bond among the three women. And it provided an extra incentive for Skinner and Halimi to do everything they could to help Gunga when she was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer.

A 39-year-old single mother, Gunga has been in the United States for 10 years, meaning she was living in Kosovo when it was wracked by war with Serbia. She was living her life in this country, working multiple jobs to make ends meet, working out twice a day, and taking care of her daughter.

Marco Island resident Laura Gunga is in the middle of a course of chemo and radiation, along with a double mastectomy.

Then, in June, she was diagnosed with two types of aggressive breast cancer. While she was not clear on the specifics and medical terminology, she did say she has gone through several rounds of chemotherapy — “they give me two different types” — and is scheduled for more chemo, radiation therapy and a double mastectomy.

“It was a complete lifestyle adjustment for Laura,” said Halimi. “She went from working two or three jobs, running in the morning, working out, hanging out with friends, to a complete halt on her life.”

Gunga knows her bills are mounting, and misses her workouts, but she is trying to stay positive and concentrate on doing what she needs to do to get well.

“For now, I’m just focusing on treatments — on my health,” she said.

“She is doing a really good job,” said Halimi, sitting with Gunga in the living room of her walkup apartment. “I just wish we could eliminate some of the added stresses in her life.”

Her friends are trying, illustrating the principle that the most effective and rewarding form of charity is direct, person-to-person giving. Halimi and Skinner both own businesses in the Shops of Olde Marco. Halimi is the proprietor of Bijoux, a giftshop with clothing, hats and accessories, and Skinner operates Miranda’s Hair World.

The two decided that, in addition to providing personal and logistical support to Gunga, they would leverage their businesses to raise funds to help their friend. During October and November, each donated 10 percent of their sales to help defray Gunga’s expenses, which of course continue and even increase though she could no longer work while undergoing the treatments.

On Wednesday, Dec. 12, Bijoux, along with Miranda’s Hair World, is hosting a “Sip & Shop” event, offering refreshments and raffles to entice shoppers to the Shops of Olde Marco at 192 Royal Palm Drive from 5 to 7 p.m.

“Grab your friends and join us for an evening of holiday fun! Browse our latest arrivals while enjoying a glass of champagne and gourmet hors d’oeuvres,” touts their flyer. A portion of proceeds will go to help Gunga.

They have also created a GoFundMe page for Gunga ( 

“But I know, some people aren’t comfortable with giving on the internet, so we do the shopping event,” said Skinner, and donate from their shops.

Additional material support has come from members of the Marco Presbyterian Church, who have given Gunga rides to Tampa for her medical treatments.

After getting out of a war zone, Gunga is facing her own personal battle. If you can help, visit her GoFundMe page, show up at Bijoux, at 192 Royal Palm Drive in the Shops of Olde Marco, or call Miranda Skinner at 239-259-8848.