Desiderio operated the Ninth Street Hair House, at 9th and Ritner streets, in South Philly for 30 years. She moved to St. Petersburg, Fla., about 10 years ago, for the sun and sand.
She tried to retire. Couldn't stand it. "Retired life didn't suit her, so she went to work at a five-star health spa down there," Oteri said.
The years rolled by smoothly enough until Desiderio felt a bit foggy one day. She went to a hospital, where a chest X-ray revealed the earth-shattering truth.
Desiderio tried chemotherapy, tried more holistic approaches. She died May 13. She would have turned 63 on Tuesday.
Tomorrow, Desiderio's family will walk in her memory at the Free to Breathe's eighth annual 5K Run/Walk in Fairmount Park.
Free to Breathe was started in 2006 by the National Lung Cancer Partnership to raise awareness of the disease and boost fundraising efforts.
Lynda Ivory, another one of Desiderio's nieces, found out about the organization in the wake of her aunt's death.
Many of her relatives have died of lung cancer, which claims more lives in the United States per year than any other cancer, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"We have to get rid of the stigma around lung cancer," said Ivory, 34.
"It's not only a smoker's disease, and even if you did smoke, no one deserves cancer," she said. "Why should this cancer get less research or attention than others?"
November is Lung Cancer Awareness Month. The five-year survival rate for the disease is just 16.3 percent, according to the American Lung Association.
Desiderio did smoke when she was younger, Ivory said, but she later gave up the habit and devoted herself to health shakes and exercise.
"Most people don't find out they have lung cancer until it's stage 4, and then it's a death sentence," she said. "We have screenings for breast cancer and colon cancer. We need screenings for lung cancer."
On Twitter: @dgambacorta