Bree Pagliuso, 28
I first met Bree at primary school when we were four years old. For the next seven years we entertained ourselves and anyone who would sit still long enough with quirky song and dance performances.
Our lives took us in different directions but when I discovered that Bree had gone on, at the age of 28, to co-found twosixmag, an online lifestyle magazine dedicated to health and wellbeing, I thought it was time to get back in touch.
Turns out that Bree threw in a corporate job at a bank only a few months ago after a stint of serious illness. Realising life is short and that she wasn’t where she wanted to be, she took some time to think back to what it was she really loved and then grabbed it with both hands.
These days Bree is a yoga teacher and editor. Her story is about love and friendship, about confronting your worst fears and charging on regardless.
Bree, we met when we were in primary school! Such a long time ago. What do you remember about the kid you were back then?
I remember having the freedom to be whoever I wanted! I remember never being afraid of trying new things. I never had the feeling I wasn’t good enough—those feelings came later in life.
We were very imaginative! It makes me feel a little sad, I look back and realise what a wonderful imagination I had and how much fun it was to be a child. I remember how much I loved being with my friends. I loved all the adventures, performances and silly lives we would invent for ourselves. I feel very blessed to have had the childhood I did.
And how have you changed from the girl you were then?
Honestly, it’s only now I’m starting to understand that ‘child Bree’ had it right all along. Somewhere along the way I grew much harder. The positivity and creativity I had as a child gave way to, or at least was overshadowed by, the fear of failing, letting people down or not fitting in. It’s really only in the last year after a brief period of illness (in 2013) those ‘child Bree’ qualities have re-surfaced.
I think the fear of the unknown and losing control over my body brought back the fearlessness and the I don’t care attitude I had as a child. Don’t get me wrong some of the things I did as a child or teen still make me cringe but I’m proud that I gave it a shot without worrying what people thought.
Before your illness (we’ll talk about that in a second) you had been working in a corporate job, in a bank. How did you end up there from high school?
You know what…honestly…it was debt. It was all debt. I changed my uni course probably three or four times after school, then I decided I would go travelling for a year. It was very easy at the time to get credit cards and I came home with debt and the first job that was offered to me was a team assistant role at a financial firm so I took it.
I’m organised and very impatient and I suited the role. I can tell people what to do, I loved being in charge and from there I was promoted a few times then moved on to a couple of new companies. I enjoyed it. I really did. But I got stuck because it was good money and it was easy and very flexible working hours, they look after their staff and…it served its purpose.
I didn’t want to make it into a bigger deal than it was but I needed to make a fresh start.
And then 2013 happened…do you want to tell us a bit about your illness?
Yeah, sure. Well, about August last year I went in to hospital with an infection in my lymph nodes and from there I had a grumbling appendix so they took that out and after the CT scan they noticed there was a shadow on my left kidney. I was sent to see a number of surgeons and they said, ‘Look we’re not sure what it is but it does have a blood supply and it’s growing. We don’t want to do a biopsy, so we’re just going to go in there and take it out.’
It was a nervous wait for a couple of weeks before they went in through keyhole surgery and took out the tumour. Stage 1. Unfortunately, while in the operation I had a complication and ended up in I.C.U. It just meant the recovery was a lot longer. It also turned out to be malignant.
Obviously the outcome is fine. I’m fine. There are a few health issues that are ongoing but nothing that I can’t manage. And, you know, I didn’t have to go through chemo and radiation but it was this short period of time when things just happened so quickly and I don’t think I really processed what was going on.
I just went with it and tried to manage my parent’s feelings and my husband Theo’s feelings and I didn’t take the time to really reflect on what had happened. I’m an active person and it meant for six months I couldn’t do anything, I couldn’t do any activity, I couldn’t do my yoga. It really affected everything about me, everything to my core, and I’m still recovering.
But that journey has allowed me to make these changes in my life. From those experiences I’ve been able to quit my job and take risks because your mind set changes, thing aren’t as important anymore that were before.
But you initially returned to work after the illness, didn’t you?
Yes I did. I looked at my experience and I thought Well, it’s not that bad so. You know, the next person has had chemo, they should be able to take the time off but I didn’t have to go through that so why am I making this such a big deal? Young, old, no one is really allowed the time to recover from things anymore, it’s all go, go, go, go. So I went back to work at the bank.
And do you remember the moment when you decided to say goodbye to that life and start a new one?
Yes, I do actually. Theo and I got married in February this year and went away for a week to Bali. I got home on a Friday and I was meant to go back to work on the Monday and I felt physically sick from the moment we got on the plane to come home. I couldn’t do it. In fact I think my body just decided You’re not going back. I went and saw my G.P. and we talked through everything and then I rang my boss who was wonderful.
I didn’t want to make it into a bigger deal than it was but I needed to make a fresh start. I shouldn’t have gone back to my job after the operation, I think I needed to take more time to really just reflect on what had happened so once I did have that time off, I realised it’s what I needed. I needed to regroup.
You then got certified as a yoga instructor and launched the wonderful twosixmag! Reading through the website, you and Emma have had similar encounters with the connections between the mind and body, how does that tie in to the goal of the magazine?
The goal is to just create a community of people that have an interest in a healthy life. We don’t have an agenda. The goal is just to provide a forum for people to visit and if they’ve got a question about something, hopefully the answer is there. It’s just really about generating conversation about health and just living consciously without complicating it and without ego.
The last year has taught me to be mindful that life can change at any moment.
Everything is moving so quickly that we’re forgetting to look after ourselves and I think the both of us have seen how important it is to slow down and to really understand that you only have one body in your life.
I’ve always been healthy but something happened in my body and I couldn’t control it…as an only child I really struggled with that, I have always needed to be in control. So I guess whatever you can control—things like food and activity and what you’re reading and watching and learning—that’s what we want to offer. That’s our focus.
You’ve mentioned just in the last 15 minutes that you can be impatient and that you’ve always needed to feel in control. Can you tell us a bit more about that?
Well, everybody around me seems to always call me impatient but I think, really, I’m just on time! I like to be on time!
And I suppose if there’s something I want to do, I’ll do it. I really do believe that there is a solution to everything and there is a way to go about everything and that really helped in my corporate life, nothing ever really worried me. I was never stressed because I knew I could fix anything. That’s how I feel about everything really. I felt that about my recovery, it’s just interesting that I couldn’t control everything about it…because you can’t.
So that’s why I get described as controlling and impatient, but it’s in an endearing way!
You’re an only child, can you tell us a bit about your family and friendships?
I would sincerely be lost without my friendships. For me, my friends are the closet to siblings I’ll ever have (except through marriage). I sometimes think I’m probably hard work. I constantly need them around me and spend most of my days talking or contacting them. They are all very smart, driven women and I love how accomplished they all are, it makes me so proud.
My closest friend, Teresa especially. She is incredibly strong and incredibly soft at the same time, I’m constantly blown away by her drive and individuality. She comes from a very traditional European household and she broke the mold. She left home without being married and went into advertising and she’s been able to make a great name for herself.
She’s one of those people that just goes out there and takes whatever they can. She’s not afraid of failing which is something that’s always in the back of my mind. She has now quit her full time job and started up her own business, actually she’s got a couple! (Lialina and Pata Pata).
Last year she visited me everyday at the hospital. For a couple of months, she was there everyday and just kept coming.
And my family are my driving force. My parents and my uncle John are the most genuine, loving and intelligent people. They taught me to always appreciate what life gives, to never act on jealousy, to be kind and give everybody a chance and to never stop learning!
Tell us about your husband, about married life? Has it changed your relationship or you at all?
Well, Theo is Greek and I’m Italian/Irish. We both have big extended families and a huge network of friends. It’s the thing I love most about Theo. He loves his family and friends above all else and now he loves my family and friends just as much and it makes my heart melt every time he talks about how much he loves them. I think being an only child made me crave a large family and now I have one!
I don’t think marriage has changed who I am, I think I’m forever growing up and changing but I don’t attribute it to getting married. It does however create this sense of unity and ease (if that’s the right word) within the relationship. Its funny but sometimes I stop myself and think how strange it is that someone else on this planet actually wants to spend the rest of their life with me! (Laughs)
Recognise what you are good at and go with that.
Sounds like you’re in a pretty great place right now Bree. Can I ask how would you define success in 2014? For you?
Well success for me now is really just about working towards these goals, on twosixmag, on my yoga teaching. I don’t determine success by how much money I am making, that’s definitely changed. It’s more about achieving things that I always wanted to do and making sure there is passion behind what I’m doing, that’s success for me.
So where do you want to be in ten years then?
I don’t have solid plans right now. Nothing is really concrete and the last year has taught me to be mindful that life can change at any moment.
But I guess what I would like to have achieved in ten years is…all those dreams child Bree had! And have a family, a BIG one!
And if there was one thing you think we should all talk more about, what would it be?
We’ve created such a guarded, politically correct society that most people are afraid to speak their mind, for fear that they might offend someone somewhere or be chastised for their opinions. Our government is taking our country back ten steps and yet only a few are actually talking about it! Not enough people are angry enough to make change. People don’t talk about politics, religion or money in Australia. It’s stupid.
Any final words of wisdom for our Friday Best readers?
I would say just go for it! Don’t let all the society guidelines or the expectations hold you back. When you leave high school you’ve got this amazing opportunity, just go out there and explore and do what you love and don’t worry about salary.
I think back to when I finished school and I wish that I’d kept going with the things that I love because essentially I’ve just gone around in a circle. The first course that I did out of school was a magazine editing course so ten years later I’m back to where I started. You really can do what you love and make it work for you. Just go for it!
Do you think people forget about the things they love as they get older?
I do. I think if people took that time to go back to their last days in school, or even earlier, and think about what is they loved, I think that’s where they’re meant to go, that’s the path they’re meant to take. Recognise what you are good at and go with that. You know, I don’t have a talent, I’m not good at something specific but I recognise that I’m approachable and I have a good personality so that’s what I’ll use now. That’s what will take my career to the next level.
You’re good at being you!
Things I Love
I completed a short course through RMIT two years ago. It was lots of fun! I love talking about film and I thought I’d try my luck at writing my own. (Still working on that!)
Make Peace With Your Plate, by Jess Ainscough
I go back to this every time I need to be reminded how lucky I am and if I need a refresher on my natural/organic living tools.
I am completely obsessed!