Britain's loneliest pensioner, 76, reveals he is now fighting cancer

Britain’s loneliest pensioner, 76, who leaves his will out every night in case he dies reveals he is now fighting cancer, must survive on ‘vile’ protein drinks and wants doctor to put him out of his misery

  • Cancer patient John Foster, 76, of Sunderland, says he has no enjoyment in life
  • He visits graves of his parents and siblings each day ‘just to feel closer to them’

One of Britain’s loneliest pensioners has been told the news that he has oesophageal cancer just days after sharing his grief on a documentary.

John Foster, 76, who has outlived all his friends and family, has said he wishes he wasn’t here after discovering he has the disease just six weeks ago.

The former shipyard worker, who appeared in the Channel 4 documentary Britain’s Forgotten Pensioners, is now unable to eat and is forced to survive on liquid protein mixes that he says ‘taste vile’.

John lives alone in Sunderland, Tyne and Wear and sits in the dark with his empty fridge turned off due to rising energy costs and visits his family’s graves every day.

He said: ‘It’s no life, it’s not living, it’s just existing, things were bad enough but now I can’t even enjoy the little things.

76-year-old John Foster lives alone in the house he used to share with his parents and two siblings, and told of his daily struggle to cope with his isolation

‘I used to love my breakfasts, sometimes I’d even have two, one of the only joys I had left, now I can’t eat anything, I’m sick to death.

‘I have to take three of these bottles a day and they’re horrible, they taste like chemicals, everything I try to eat does now.


‘I used to love pasties too, I’ve tried to eat small bits but they taste like the drugs I’m taking.

‘Where the tumour is, it’s stopping any food getting down to my stomach and it gets stuck, it’s constantly feeling like somethings went down the wrong way, it’s awful.

John is currently undergoing chemotherapy for the disease which is making him very ill.

He is due to start radiotherapy in January 2024 but he doesn’t feel hopeful about the future.

He added: ‘To be honest, I would rather not be here.

‘People can’t survive like this, the drugs attack everything, I felt fine until I got diagnosed, I thought i had a hernia and it would be a simple check up.

‘The doctor sat me down and told me it was serious, my health has deteriorated since starting chemo, I just don’t have the energy for anything.

‘I said to the doctor last time I went for a check up, can you please just give me something to end it all.

‘I usually go cut the grass at the cemetery on a Saturday, and I look forward to it, I am so tired I don’t know if I can even do that any more, anything I once enjoyed – I can’t do’.

The gentle OAP captured the hearts of the nation in the Dispatches programme aired on Wednesday, June 7, when it was revealed he leaves his will out on his sofa overnight in case something happens to him and no-one is around.

The retired shipyard worker has now revealed he leaves all his paperwork out 24/7 now since his diagnosis in case he dies.

‘I’m completely on my own. I haven’t even got any relations anywhere, I’m just here, that’s it. Existing,’ he said in a heartbreaking interview 

John Foster, who appeared in a Channel 4 Dispatches programme called Britain’s Forgotten Pensioners, shows how he lays out his will before going to bed 

John’s last surviving relative, his beloved sister Joan, 74, whom he lived with, died six years ago leaving the former factory worker completely on his own.

‘People thought we were a married couple we were that close, we did everything together, I miss her so much.

‘We were such a close knit family, none of us left the family home. It was mam, dad, me, my younger brother Tom and my sister.

‘Tom died four days before his 41st birthday and I don’t think my parents ever recovered, my mam became a recluse, losing her youngest child broke her.

‘He was a miner and had coal dust on his lungs but he was in and out of hospital for years and couldn’t walk properly by the end.

‘My mam lost all interest in everything, stopped cooking, didn’t want to leave the house, we had to rally round and force her out the house, she couldn’t cope’.

Just four years later he sadly lost his parents Margaret, 76, and John, 82, who tragically died within 24 hours of each other.

‘We were sitting watching telly and my dad went through the living room to go get ready.

‘Mam said ring an ambulance your dad doesn’t look right, so I did.

‘We were such a close knit family, none of us left the family home. It was mam, dad, me, my younger brother Tom and my sister,’ said Mr Foster, 76

Asked if he ever feels sad, Mr Foster said: ‘You should say “do you ever feel happy?” Because I’m sad all the time’

‘When they knocked on the door my dad went off it with me for ringing them, he hated hospitals and didn’t like the fuss, he swore he was fine and an hour later he was dead.

‘When I told my mam she recoiled in shock, sat back on her armchair, and that was it, she never spoke another word.


‘She died the next day, the coroner said he couldn’t medically say she passed with a broken heart but sometimes when someone gets such a big shock, it can kill them.

‘Her and my dad were so close, they did everything together so I don’t think she would have survived without him anyway.

‘Me and my sister were traumatised by losing them both so suddenly, the house went from being full to being just us, i tried to kill myself, I didn’t want to be here anymore without them.

‘I got sectioned after taking an overdose, it was too terrible to imagine living in a world without them here, but Joan got me through it.

‘It was just us two after that so when Joan died of Dementia in 2017 I was completely alone and terrified, the house was all of a sudden so silent and I’ve felt hollow ever since.

‘She was such a funny person, everywhere we went people loved her, she loved embarrassing me.

‘She was completely deaf after having meningitis at two-year-old and had learning difficulties but she was smart, she looked after me so when she passed, it was like losing everything, a light went out.

‘None of us married, none of us had kids. My mam used to say “when are you going to get married and give me grandchildren?” But none of us did, she never got them.

‘I feel incredibly lonely, I visit their graves every day just to feel closer to them, they’re all buried in the same place and I’ll be joining them one day, probably soon.’

Mr Foster stays in the dark at night to avoid having to pay for his electric lights 

Mr Foster’s will and funeral arrangements laid out on a sofa in his living room for someone to find if they walk in following his death 

The heartbreaking programme showed Mr Foster laying out his will and funeral arrangements before going to bed in case he died in the night. 

‘I started doing this when my sister died. I’ve got no family – they’ve all gone – so there’s nobody to do things like this,’ he said. 

‘If anyone comes into the house this is the first thing they’re going to see. They will phone the funeral directors, they’ll come out and everything will be done.’ 

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Asked if he ever feels sad, Mr Foster said: ‘You should say “do you ever feel happy?” Because I’m sad all the time.’ 

The pensioner explained that his brother, a miner, died four days before his 41st birthday, while his sister died five years ago. His mother and father died within 27 hours of each other. 

‘I’ve got no family, never been married, no kids. Family, if you lose one or two it’s bad enough, but if you lose all of them you’re completely on your own and it’s just a nightmare,’ he said. 

‘I can’t believe I’m the last one here. It takes getting your head around it, you just can’t work it out.’ 

The documentary showed Karen Noble, from local charity Pallion Action Group, helping Mr Foster gain access to benefits so he could afford utility bills and proper meals.

In total this amounted to an extra £131.25 every week which the pensioner did not know he was entitled to.

He said afterwards: ‘I’m getting a lot more money now, which I’ve been entitled to for a few years and I didn’t know, I had no idea.’ 

The documentary showed Karen Noble, from local charity Pallion Action Group, helping Mr Foster gain access to benefits so he could afford utility bills and proper meals

Mr Foster can now afford to go shopping and no longer needs to rely on foodbanks.

Ms Noble said: ‘I know that there’s lots of information online, but we all know older people who don’t go online. 

‘In John’s case, if somebody had sat, when his sister had passed away and was on his own, had asked what was going on, then that would have highlighted that he needed some additional support.

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‘Nobody did, so whose responsibility is it and how are we going to solve it? I think it’s shocking that we’ve got a 76-year-old man who could have been getting an additional benefit for ten years and nobody picked it up.’

A National Energy Action poll commissioned by Channel 4 for the documentary revealed the struggles elderly people are facing due to rising gas and electricity bills. 

It revealed one in five (19 per cent) over-65s went to bed earlier than usual for warmth, while 1.8million older people turned off their heating completely this winter to save money.

Meanwhile, three in five (59 per cent) over 65s said they used their heating less than they ordinarily would.

Age UK director Caroline Abrahams said: ‘Many viewers will be shocked by this programme, and they are right to be. 

‘Pensioner poverty fell steadily for a generation but then it rose again and now, as this documentary demonstrates, it’s truly back with a vengeance.

‘What we see in this programme ought to be a wake-up call that prompts an important discussion about how we ensure every older person can live decently and with dignity, free from the fear of the next big unaffordable bill.’ 

Hard-pressed households will receive a minor boost next month as Ofgem lowers its price cap to just over £2,000 a year – a saving of nearly £450. 

Energy consultancy firm Cornwall Insight predicts the price cap will fall by £446 to £2,054 a year, based on falling wholesale energy prices.

However, campaigners warned households are not set to feel relief for another seven years, with energy bills set to remain high until 2030 at the earliest.

‘We do not currently expect bills to return to pre-2020 levels before the end of the decade at the earliest,’ Cornwall Insight said.

Fuel poverty charity National Energy Action (NEA) said that bills would remain ‘unaffordable’ for many due to the Government’s decision to cut its winter support packages.

You can watch Britain’s Forgotten Pensioners: Dispatches now on 4oD.  

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