1928: Seven Years
Title text: [hair in face] "SEVVVENNN YEEEARRRSSS"
Randall's then girlfriend, now wife, was diagnosed with cancer in late 2010, a matter he has discussed in the comic multiple times before. Here, motivated by the seven-year period between the American solar eclipses of 2017 and 2024, we see them reminiscing the seven years prior to the first eclipse, leaving an open question to what the next seven years will bring.
It was released as a response to another cancer diagnosis, this is explained in the Header text, which, for this comic only, has replaced the standard xkcd updates every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. The header for this comic, with the active link included, is:
- Becky Beaton, sister of fellow cartoonist Kate Beaton, has also been diagnosed with cancer. You can support her treatment here.
Kate Beaton is the creator of the web comic Hark! A Vagrant. Although this comic is not one on Randall's list of Comics I enjoy, he is clearly much influenced by another cancer diagnosis among someone in his own creative field.
Explanations of the individual panels:
- Panels 1–8: See 1141: Two Years, where there are also three more panels, not included here, with the punch line for that comic.
- Panel 9: Randall (drawn as Cueball) and Randall's wife (with her hair noticeably longer than it was at the end of 1141: Two Years, so she looks like Megan), are walking through a forest with very tall trees (maybe giant redwood). The perspective is from a distant vantage point, and themes of extreme longevity are mixed with new growth: The old trees are so tall they grow out of the frame, yet saplings are clearly growing as well. Importantly, they are literally "not out of the woods yet," the very question that was posed to them at the start of 931: Lanes.
- Panel 10: Randall's wife is sitting down, not in the forest anymore. She is concerned because she has pain in her toe and worries that this is an early sign of her cancer spreading again. Randall points out the simpler explanation- that she stubbed her toe the previous day, and the pain is likely a result of that. This panel shows the paranoia that comes from cancer remission, as earlier explained in 931: Lanes.
- Panel 11: Randall and his wife are going spelunking (aka caving). Their guide, Hairy, is gesturing deeper into the cave while Randall and his wife are climbing down. It is the first of three frames that contrast darkness and light, and two frames center on exploring a dark underworld.
- Panel 12: Randall's wife stands on a rock above an alligator in a swamp, photographing the alligator. Randall, on a balcony behind safety railings, observes that medical predictions about the odds of someone surviving cancer generally assume that the cancer patient doesn't risk something else killing them first. In this case her extreme hobbies (not related to Randall's hobbies).
- Panel 13: Randall's wife sits on an examination bed, listening to a doctor Ponytail holding a clipboard. The doctor talks about an issue which is "probably nothing" but might be the cancer — again showing the paranoia that comes with cancer. Ponytail tells her not to worry about until they have the result of a full scan she will order for her. This could be a full body PET scan to ensure there are no active lymph nodes. If there are this could be caused by metastasis of the cancer to the lymphatic system, which could be difficult to cure. In the first comic we see that it is very difficult to wait for the reply of such a scan.
- Panel 14: Randall and his wife stand above a deep pond full of fish and other objects. Randall's wife is piloting a wired underwater camera with lights. Randall shared pictures of his underwater ROV before. If this panel can be taken as following directly after the previous, it could be concluded that after some years they have learned to go do something fun rather than sit and worry for a result that they cannot change and do not know when will arrive. That would be a positive take on the sequence. They are shown both literally and figuratively searching -- as in the cave -- in the dark unknown. In the same way the doctor in the previous frame was exploring his wife's body, searching for hard to find things at depth.
- Panel 15: Randall and his wife are standing next to each other. Randall's wife has shoulder-length hair covering most of her face, and observes that, despite the chemotherapy robbing her of most of her hair six years ago, it is now growing enough to obscure her face. "The little girl from The Ring" refers to Sadako Yamamura, the antagonist of the Ring series by Koji Suzuki, and popularized in a 2002 movie. See the title text,
- Panel 16: A line of six people, Ponytail between two other Cueball-like characters as well as Randall and his wife, with Megan to the right, stand and watch the corona of the Sun during the totality of the total solar eclipse of 2017. This has already been mentioned in several comics earlier in 2017, where this solar eclipse passed over the entire continental USA. Thematically, all three dark frames (cave, pond, and eclipse) are without speech. In this dark frame, exploration is replaced with awe, and when light comes in the next frame, speech returns and, in the light of day, determination to move forward.
- Panel 17: The sky has been brightened, and the eclipse is over. As the eclipse is cool to see in person (as Randall made clear in 1880: Eclipse Review), the onlookers are left with little more than exclamations of amazement, one of which comes from Randall's wife, which 7 years ago had not expected, or even thought that she would be here to watch it (or a bit earlier, had doubted that she would be!)
- Panel 18: Randall and his wife are walking together and holding hands. When his wife inquires about the next total eclipse, Randall replies that the next one is in seven years (2024), and asks whether they should go to see it.
- Panel 19: Still walking, Randall and his wife think together about a timeline. Seven years have passed since 2010, represented with a solid line from the past to 2017; seven years in the future will be 2024, represented with a dotted line into the future and surrounded by three question marks. This is reflective of Panel 6, where "next year" is not guaranteed to be a thing.
- Panel 20: The pair keeps walking, with his wife optimistically agreeing to this stating that she will do her best to accomplish this, and Randall states that they have a date! (His way of claiming her to still be there in seven years!) His affirmation of something so simple as a "date" highlights the contrast to the natural awe of an eclipse or the staggering diagnosis of cancer, and it simultaneously elevates the event to a much higher accomplishment.
The title text is a continuation to panel 15 concerning the horror movie The Ring. Specifically, watching the videotape in The Ring is supposed to kill a person in seven days, but the title text instead says "seven years".
With all these thoughts in mind, there is no wonder that he wishes to participate in helping a colleague's cancer-stricken sister with the unique header text above this comic, as mentioned above.
- [The first eight panels, used earlier in the comic 1141: Two Years, are faded out.]
- [Randall and Randall's fiancée sit on a bed, Randall's fiancée is talking on the phone. The person she is talking to, a doctor holding a clipboard, is shown inset.]
- Randall's fiancée: Oh god.
- [Randall and Randall's fiancée sit together while Randall's fiancée, now bald, is receiving chemotherapy. They are both on their laptops.]
- IV pump: ... Beeep ... Beeep ... Beeep ...
- [Randall and Randall's fiancée (who is wearing a knit cap) are paddling a kayak against a scenic mountain backdrop.]
- [Randall and Randall's fiancée sit at a table, staring at a cell phone. There is a clock on the wall. Her head is stubbly.]
- Randall's fiancée: How long can it take to read a scan!?
- [Randall and Randall's fiancée are back at the hospital again, Randall's fiancée receiving chemo. They are playing Scrabble.]
- Randall: "Zarg" isn't a word.
- Randall's fiancée: But caaaancer.
- Randall: ...Ok, fine.
- [Randall and Randall's fiancée (wearing a knit cap) are listening to a Cueball-like friend. A large thought bubble is above their heads and it obscures the friends talk. The text below, split in three is the only part there can be no doubt about:]
- Friend: So next year you should come visit us up in the mounta
- Randall and Randall's fiancée (thinking): "Next year"
- [Randall and Randall's fiancée are getting married, with a heart above their heads. Randall's wife's hair is growing back.]
- [Randall and Randall's wife (wearing a knit cap) stand on a beach, watching a whale jump out of water. This is the last gray panel, with an additional label in normal black color.]
- Label: Two years
- [Randall and Randall's wife (with her hair noticably longer) are walking through a forest.]
- [Randall's wife is sitting down, not in the forest anymore.]
- Randall's wife: My toe hurts and I found a report of a case in which toe pain was an early sign of cancer spreading.
- Randall: Wait—didn’t you stub your toe yesterday?
- Randall's wife: Yes, but what if this is unrelated?
- [Randall and his wife are going spelunking. The guide is gesturing deeper into the cave while Randall and his wife are climbing down.]
- [Randall's wife stands on a rock above an alligator in a swamp, photographing the alligator. Randall is on a balcony behind safety railings.]
- Randall: When they estimated your survival odds, I think they made some optimistic assumptions about your hobbies.
- [Randall's wife sits on an examination bed, listening to a doctor holding a clipboard.]
- Doctor: This is probably nothing.
- Doctor: But given your history, we should do a full scan.
- Doctor: We'll call with the results in a few days. Try not to worry about it until then!
- [Randall and his wife stand above a deep pond full of fish and other objects. Randall's wife is piloting a wired underwater camera with lights.]
- [Randall and his wife are standing next to each other. Randall's wife has shoulder-length hair covering most of her face.]
- Randall's wife: Hard to believe—six years ago, I was bald. But today, after a long struggle, I finally look like the little girl from The Ring.
- Randall: That's, uhh... good?
- Randall's wife: Hissssss
- [A line of six people, including Randall and his wife, stand and watch the solar eclipse.]
- [The sky has been brightened.]
- Ponytail: Wow.
- Randall's wife: Yeah.
- [Randall and his wife are walking together and holding hands.]
- Randall's wife: That was incredible.
- Randall's wife: When's the next one?
- Randall: In seven years.
- Randall: Wanna go see it?
- [Still walking, Randall and his wife think together about a timeline. Seven years have passed since 2010, represented with a solid line from the past to 2017; seven years in the future will be 2024, represented with a dotted line into the future and surrounded by three question marks.]
- [The pair keeps walking.]
- Randall's wife: Yeah.
- Randall's wife: I'll do my best.
- Randall: It's a date!
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