By Elvia Kelly, Fort Stewart Public AffairsMarch 10, 2011
FORT STEWART, Ga. - Doctor Leslie Cardenas reflects a walking example of a success story. A psychologist at Fort Stewart's Warrior Restoration Center/Traumatic Brain Injury and a mother of two young sons, Cardenas balances her career as a psychologist serving Soldiers and a mother dedicated to her Family.
"Here at the Warrior Restoration Center, I'm a pain psychologist," Cardenas explained. "Not only do I treat Soldiers with psychological wounds like depression, anxiety, and post traumatic stress disorder, but I also treat the physical wounds of Soldiers who may have been injured in combat or non-combat related events."
As Cardenas cares for Soldiers experiencing pain while focusing on her growing Family, the first chapter of her storybook success was not so simple.
Growing up on the coast of her native Mayaguez, Puerto Rico, in an underprivileged community, Cardenas lived in an area in which poverty was common and higher education was difficult to achieve.
"I come from a very disadvantaged socioeconomic background," Cardenas said. "We had no personal transportation or the financial resources to afford an education. So, my parents had a lot to do with me becoming a professional. They always told me to take advantage of any educational opportunity if we wanted to be successful in life."
With her parents' continued support in pursuing her goals, Cardenas knew she wanted to be someone bigger then herself. Though not an easy goal to achieve, she was determined to defy the odds and pursue her dreams in helping people.
"I've always had this innate feeling to help others," Cardenas said. "I was aware since I was a little girl all the different issues of my community, one of them being behavioral health issues and the other being mental health issues. I put together the need of the people and my desire to help the people. For those reasons, I chose to become a psychologist."
Because Cardenas' Family did not own a vehicle then, she carpooled with friends everyday 40 miles from home to the Interamerican University of Puerto Rico and held two jobs to make ends meet. All Cardenas' hard work paid-off when she completed her bachelor's degree in psychology, graduating magna cum laude in 1999. Soon after, she entered the doctorate program in clinical psychology, graduating top of her class at Ponce School of Medicine, Puerto Rico, in 2005.
After marrying her husband, Maj. Ernesto Cardenas, who is the chief at the Obstetrics and Gynecology clinic at Fort Stewart, then a Second Lieutenant seeking his medical degree, Cardenas relocated to Fort Sam Houston, Texas, where her husband began his residency in OB/GYN at Brooke Army Medical Center in 2004.
For Cardenas, the move to Fort Sam Houston was a positive one. It was a stepping stone for her career to blossom and an opportunity to practice speaking English.
"It was good that we moved to San Antonio, Texas," Cardenas said. "With the large Hispanic population, it was a smoother transition to learn English while still being able to speak Spanish."
While at Fort Sam Houston, Cardenas attended English classes for six months. Thereafter, she obtained a position as a bi-lingual psychologist, marking the beginning of her career in psychology.
Upon completion of his residency in 2008, Maj. Cardenas and his Family relocated to Fort Stewart, Ga. Cardenas did not leave her passion to help others behind; she quickly found a position available at Stewart to continue practicing her love for psychology.
"It is extremely rewarding to serve Soldiers who serve our country," Cardenas said. "I feel very proud every time patients share that they feel better, that they have overcome their psychiatric issues."
Successfully balancing soccer practices, home life, and a career, Cardenas is proud to say she has made her dream come true.
"Believe in yourself. Don't give up," Cardenas said. "It is very important to pursue your educational goals, and that is an achievement no one can take away from you."
She currently holds licenses to practice psychology in Texas, Georgia and her beloved home of Puerto Rico.