When Dana Rosser met her future husband, laparoscopic surgeon Dr. James “Butch” Rosser, he weighed 460 pounds. After they married in 1995, she struggled with the challenges of supporting a loved one with obesity, which she chronicled in her book, “Thru Thick & Thin.” The couple’s story is now the subject of the documentary, “More Than What We See.” Rosser, 57, who lives in Orlando, Florida, shared how one partner’s weight affects their spouse in an interview with TODAY.
When I met Butch, I saw his weight, of course. How could you not? But I looked at so many other things — his intelligence and his smile. We had the same Christian values and we laughed a lot. So I looked at his character and that’s what I fell in love with.
People called me a gold digger because in their mind, there’s no way someone could find a 460-pound man attractive. He’s a world-renowned surgeon so people thought I was with him because of the fame and fortune. That really hurt my feelings.
I was concerned for his health. He couldn’t walk really long distances — he would sweat and his knees would hurt. He couldn’t play outside with our girls when they were little. He dealt with sleep apnea — at night, he snored very loudly and would stop breathing. I had a fear of him dying in his sleep, so I would nudge him to make sure he was OK. I couldn’t really get a good night’s rest because I was always checking to make sure he was alive.
When the phone rang, I’d get really nervous because I would think somebody is calling me to tell me he had a heart attack or stroke. I lived with a constant gnawing fear in the back of my head that something was going to happen to him. It caused me great angst and anxiety.
I was in love with him, but I just didn’t know what to do with all these different feelings, like embarrassment and anger.
One time we were all getting on a plane and Butch sat down, broke the seat and ended up in the lap of the person behind him. My first line of defense is protecting him, so I worked with the flight attendant to get re-seated, and made sure that passenger was OK and that Butch was OK.
Once I sat down and thought about what happened, I was totally mortified, embarrassed and angry. It wasn’t just him that it happened to, it happened to me, too, because people were staring at us and laughing.
I saw him mistreated and I would live with that all day. That would just hurt my soul. My spirit was being chipped away by seeing how other people treated my husband. It makes me cry now — it was so awful.
If we walked into a restaurant, people would look at us, snicker or laugh. One time we were getting on an elevator and people intentionally got off because I guess they were thinking the elevator would malfunction.
One time a total stranger asked him, “How much do you weigh?” I can’t believe how insensitive people are. I wouldn’t say anything, but I would give them the meanest look. They dehumanize someone who’s dealing with obesity. Obesity is a disease and I don’t think people realize that.
I was always on the lookout for problems. If we were going to a restaurant, I would scout it out — drive there or look online to see if they had seats without the arms. I wouldn’t choose a restaurant that had booths. I would choose one that just had regular tables.
When we went to the movie theater, we always had to have a seat in the middle between us because he was so big. My heart was breaking because I’d see other couples sitting right next to each other, sharing popcorn and kissing, and we really couldn’t do that.
We both love basketball, plays and concerts, but Butch couldn’t fit in those seats. Home was a safe place for him, so I stayed at home with him even though I didn’t want to. If I did go out with friends, I felt guilty. And when I was at home with Butch, I felt lonely because I wasn’t living my best life. I was becoming reclusive like him. I was losing who I was.
I didn’t tell him how it was affecting me because I didn’t want to add to everything that the world was already throwing at him.
I turned to "stealthy healthy" cooking to help my husband. Instead of hamburger meat for spaghetti, I would sneak in some turkey. I’d use lower sodium tomato sauce. I’d buy baked chips and mix them in with the regular chips.
He tried many diets to lose weight, but nothing worked. In his mind, the best thing for him was to have gastric bypass surgery in 2001. I remember when he got it done, our twins were 4 at the time and he was eating less food than them. He lost about 160 pounds and had a lot more energy. He didn’t have sleep apnea anymore, so he was sleeping better and his mood was better. He had a lot more confidence.
But there were new issues. We went to a Luther Vandross concert and I saw these ladies checking him out and it intimidated me. I thought, "He’s going leave me for somebody else." He never gave me any reason to think that, but in my mind I thought it, so I became a little bit insecure. That’s very common.
He’s been able to maintain the weight loss and I’m really proud of him. We go walking, swimming and parasailing. But the obesity struggle is for a lifetime. He struggles constantly with eating properly.
I would tell other people supporting a loved one with severe obesity that you’re not alone. There are millions of people in our predicament.
Own your feelings — the good, bad and ugly. I had to come to grips that yes, I love my husband unconditionally, but there are times when I was embarrassed. That’s hard to say, but you have to own your feelings.
Find your why when you talk to your loved one about their weight. Is it because of health concerns, infertility issues, mobility, intimacy or quality of life? Be clear on that.
When you talk to your loved one, lead with love. You can’t come at them with an ultimatum saying, “You need to lose however many pounds, or I’ll leave.” That’s not going to work. Make obesity the enemy. Tell them you love them and ask, “What can I do to help you get better?”
Remember self-care. I didn’t take good care of myself and that includes mentally. When I was worried about Butch and trying to take care of him, I really lost Dana. Always take care of you. If there are things you like to do, you can still do them and be there for your loved one. I lost myself and that’s important not to do.
This interview was edited and condensed for clarity.